We’ve always been told that those cute wild rabbits and hares are herbivores. I remember learning that in elementary school. Well, apparently, we were all grandly fooled by those cute critters, and they do in fact eat meat…and sometimes each other. While scientists did know that occasionally some herbivores will eat meat, a recent study revealed that they eat meat a lot more than we realized. They don’t just eat meat when there is nothing else available. These critters seem to like chowing down on other animals pretty frequently, and certainly seem to enjoy it enough to savor these meaty meals over long periods of time. These are not the cute, cuddly wild bunnies we’re all used to. They’ve gone over to the dark side.
Michael Peers, a PhD student at the University of Alberta, is the researcher behind this new study. He was researching snowshoe hares out in the Yukon, setting up wildlife cameras around the area to document their activity. For a side project, he decided to set up some cameras right by fresh carcasses. He ended up catching hares in the act of eating all kinds of meat, including grouse, loons, other hares, and even lynx, which are their main predator. He deployed 161 carcasses for the project, and 20 of them were scavenged by wild hares, with some of them defending the carcass they found from other hares. He even caught some hares munching on certain meaty meals over a period of several days. These hares aren’t just a little bit carnivorous. They seem to be as fond of meat as any human.
Rudy Boonstra, Peers’ co-supervisor and a professor at the University of Alberta, remarked that the photographic evidence of the hares’ diverse appetite is “remarkable and puzzling.” He has been studying wild animals in the Yukon and Arctic for 30 years, and these hares aren’t the only supposedly herbivore mammal he’s seen eat meat. Boonstra says he has seen Arctic ground squirrels go carnivore. They will go on hunting expeditions for lemmings, and they know exactly what they are doing. After they catch these lemmings, these voracious little squirrels dine quite enthusiastically on their brains. He believes this behavior could be to supplement their diet, looking for more protein to add to their herbivore diet. Either way, I for one, don’t ever want to see a cute rabbit, hare, or squirrel munching heartily away at a piece of raw meat.
Have you ever seen animals that you believed were herbivores eating meat?