All hares communicate largely through smell, especially during the mating season. Desert hares secrete scent products from special glands located in their groin area and under their chin. They rub pheromones from scent glands on their fur against rocks and shrubs to deposit the smell to the environment. They may leave scent tracks with their feces or urine, to mark territories or show female reproductive status. Scent secretion plays a key role in sexual communication, as well as social hierarchy signaling. Male desert hares undergo rapid hormonal changes during the mating season. They become much bolder and engage in fights with other males while pursuing a female. Because scent secretions play a role in signaling social rank, this has a major impact on which males choose to engage in physical activity. Dominant males often fight to compete for a female. They kick with their hind feet and fight with their forefeet, much like a fighter in a boxing match. Males are very aggressive with females before mating. If a female is unwilling to mate, the male will often kick and even bite the female, which can lead to serious injury. To prevent bodily harm, females are often submissive to larger dominant males during mating. Both male and female desert hares are promiscuous, so they mate with multiple hares throughout mating seasons, never forming long-lasting pair bonds.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Reproduction occurs many times in a given year, depending on the amount of resources available; usually between four or five times. If resources are scarce, the female's desire to mate will be suppressed. Desert hares usually have small litters compared to other common hares and jackrabbits, due to lack of resources. Litter sizes range from one to three young, called 'leverets'. This is a small litter when compared to hares native to the far north, such as snowshoe hares. Hares from the north usually only conceive once, but the litter size may contain as many as 17 leverets. Desert hares comparatively small litter sizes may explain why they reproduce so many times a year.
The average birth mass of desert hares is unknown. However their close relatives, cape hares, have an average birth mass of 118.4 grams. The birth mass of desert hares may be similar. The gestation period of desert hares is about 50 days; this is a relatively long gestation time when compared to rabbits. Hares do not give birth underground or in burrows, but instead make 'forms'. Forms are shallow depressions in the ground, or a flattened area of vegetation. Due to their lack of physical protection, their young are highly adapted. They are born with open eyes and fully furred bodies. This allows them to fend for themselves shortly after birth. Desert hares provide very minimal care for their young and have an unusual nursing system. Young are allowed to extract milk from the female only once every 24 hours, for about five minutes or less. The lactation period lasts between 17 to 23 days, at the end of this time, leverets are independent. There is very little social connection or contact between a mother desert hares and her young. This is believed to be a survival adaptation, decreasing the chances of mother and young being spotted by predators.
Breeding interval: Desert hares breed 4 to 5 times per year.
Breeding season: They begin mating in early spring and continue mating until late fall (April to November). Some desert hares will mate all year, regardless of the month.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 3.
Average gestation period: 50 days.
Range time to independence: 17 to 23 days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 to 5 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 to 5 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous
Male and female desert hares provide little parental care, post birth. Males are usually not involved at all, they spend much of their energy mating. However, if a male sees an adult female attacking her young, they will intervene. This behavior in leporids is known as policing. Young are born with eyes open and a fully furred body, making them ready for their environment as soon as they are born. Mothers allow young to suckle once a day for five minutes or less, the lactation period last 17 to 23 days. After young are born, females invest very little, for a very short amount of time.
Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); post-independence association with parents; inherits maternal/paternal territory