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Friday, August 05, 2005

Cutting Hare (Lepus lupus)

Readers know that I am fascinated by the natural world. My wife and I can hardly be asked to dinner without steering the conversation toward the brilliance of David Attenborough's various nature series. So here's post #1, of who knows how many, about the world's coolest animals.

The Cutting Hare of South Asia - which was named the "Wolf Hare" by Europeans (a designation expressed in its taxonomic name Lepus lupus) - is one of only a handful of venomous mammals in the world, and the only venomous member of the order Lagomorpha (which include rabbits, hares and pikas). The male Platypus, also the only egg-laying mammal, has a sharp, hollow spur on the inside of each ankles, which is connected to a gland which produces a very strong toxin. The primitive Solenodon of Haiti and Cuba has grooves in its front teeth which channel venom. Short-tailed Shrews too have venom that is used to paralyze their prey for later eating.

(false-color electron microscope image of envenomation spurs
on tongue of Lepus lupus - courtesy PsiTec Images)

The Cutting Hare has thousands of microscopic "spines" on its tongue, making its texture a little like a cat's tongue - but you don't want the Cutting Hare licking you for too long. The spines in the tongue help to retain an envenomed saliva, which is secreted when the Cutting Hare feels threatened. Anyone who was nipped as a child by a pet hamster knows that a pair of well-exercised incisors can deliver a nasty bite. The Cutting Hare when cornered by predatory animals such as Eagles or Owls, or even snakes like the Indian Cobra or Python, becomes, for a moment, the most unrabbit-like of the rabbit family.

A Cutting Hare will dig in with its powerful incisors, sometimes clinging for three or four seconds, and with tongue thrusts it will "scrub" its toxic saliva into the bite wound. Only then does it fall back into line with the behavior of its relatives and dash like mad for safety. At least one Cutting Hare was seen to cling to its would-be Eagle predator even as the fleeing Eagle was taking to the air.

The toxin is not strong enough to seriously threaten a predator. But there is enough irritation caused by the combination of bite and venom that predators are unlikely to stick around for a second try and will be occupied in soothing the burning wound rather than hunting, and will probably move along to look for easier pickings. This may explain why birds of prey are seldom seen attacking fully grown adult Cutting Hares. In fact, birds of prey and Cutting Hares have occasionally been seen sharing the same patch of ground, apparently observing an uneasy truce.

It has been suggested that the Cutting Hare's own toxin helps give it a limited immunity from the venom of some of its predators, such as the Indian Cobra. Cutting Hares have been reported to survive Cobra bites that would likely have killed other mammals of similar size.

The Cutting Hare is listed as Endangered. Much of its natural habitat has been lost due to human cultivation and settlement, forestry, grazing; also predation by dogs.


Range: Eastern Asian subcontinent from Eastern India to Bangladesh to southern Nepal.

Habitat: Prefers tall grass-scrub savanna, in flat, thinly forested country.

Social Organization: Not gregarious, sometimes lives in male-female pairs.
Venomous: Symptoms include itching and burning sensation; only one fatality known due to rare allergic reaction.


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- By Blogger Rob, at Sat Aug 06, 12:01:00 AM GMT+1  

What's your source on this? Is it a joke? There's no mention of Lepus lupus or Cutting Hare on the Wikipedia page, the "envenomation spurs" image is called "cactus.jpg", and Google has nothing about it.

- By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 06, 12:43:00 AM GMT+1  

ERROTA: I said in my post that the platypus was the only egg-laying mammal. My apologies to the echidna, which also lays eggs. Echidnas are monotremes and so you would expect them to be quite creepy. But, in fact, the echidna is quite a cute little dickens.

Check out "Echidna Central" at:

- By Blogger Neal Romanek, at Sat Aug 06, 12:47:00 AM GMT+1  

aren't Cutting Hares a predator for the Blind-Staring Frog of Sri Lanka?

- By Blogger Joe Powell, at Sat Aug 06, 05:05:00 PM GMT+1  

A fine hoax, but a hoax nonetheless...

- By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 06, 05:47:00 PM GMT+1  

i wouldn't want to get one of those hare cuts.

- By Blogger aimee, at Sat Aug 06, 10:58:00 PM GMT+1  

someone is truly splitting hare's on this one. perhaps it is listed in the book of silli-osophy of the rare but predatious mammology, alongside the jack-alope.
interesting, none-the-less.
dinner at my house...having rabbit stew!

- By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Aug 08, 02:28:00 PM GMT+1  

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