BBYY, named after the adult hare, ran a race of more than 388 kilometers in 49 days. That's the longest distance a hare has ever run, according to researchers.
"To think that such a small animal living in such extreme conditions averaging about five miles a day for seven weeks is really surprising," says Joel Berger, an ecologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bronx, NY, who was not involved in the study.
An Arctic hare weighs about the same as domestic cats with its four kilograms, and is the favorite prey of foxes and wolves on the tundra. Mammal ecologist Dominque Berteaux, from the Université du Québec à Rimouski, decided to research them because of their key role in the Arctic food chain and also because he wanted to know how these animals move around this arid landscape.
How the screening took place
In 2019, Berteaux and colleagues placed satellite tracking collars on 25 hares captured near the northern tip of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada.
Arctic Hare. Image: Ansgar Walk
When the hares began to move away quickly, researchers couldn't imagine the long journey these animals would make, Berteaux says. That's because normally hares and their relatives, lagomorphs, stay within the familiar territory with abundant and easily obtainable food.
This trend was far outdone by BBYY Arctic hares, as none came close to it, which died after a month at its final destination.
According to Dennis Murray, a terrestrial ecologist at Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, for a hare to endure such a dangerous and risky journey, it must find the balance between needing to eat without becoming food. Which makes this Arctic hare's journey all the more impressive, adds Murray.
Berteaux and colleagues hope the data collected from BBYY will help in formulating conservation strategies for the polar desert ecosystem. However, at this early stage, he says it is exciting to find "something unsuspected in an animal we thought we knew very well."