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Report: Snowshoe hares can't keep pace with climate change

File photo courtesy: Denali National Park and Preserve // Flickr

File photo courtesy: Denali National Park and Preserve // Flickr

Digital writers

Monday, September 9, 2013, 4:36 PM -

Experts refer to them as the "cheeseburger" of the ecosystem in Missoula, Montana.

The snowshoe hare -- a cute and cuddly creature -- lives life on the run, usually surviving for about a year before being hunted by a fox or a coyote, among other animals.

Even squirrels have a taste for this unfortunate hare. 

Their best line of defense is camouflage. Snowshoe hares turn brown in the summer and white in the winter -- and this has worked well, until recently.

The change of colours is triggered by a change in daylight. Shorter days signify the onset of winter, causing coats to lighten.

But climate change is causing snow to fall later. Hares are turning white ahead of the snow, and becoming a virtual bulls-eye in the process.

Experts call this "mismatching" and say it's already shortened the hare's already brief lifespan.

"And they really think that they're camouflaged," Alex Kumar, a graduate student at the University of Montana, told NPR. "They act like we can't see them. And it's pretty embarrassing for the hare."

In some instances, this species has been known to adapt. Experts point to snowshoe hares in Washington State, who don't turn white at all.

Only time will tell if the hares will learn to keep pace with our rapidly changing environment.

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