What is it about March that turns a timid creature that ventures out only under cover of darkness into a crazy beast that owns the day? We’re talking about the usually shy, nocturnal European hare (Lepus europaeus).
When a male (jack) starts looking for a mate in spring, he will chase his intended. If the female (jill) isn’t ready to mate, she’ll turn on the jack and begin an exaggerated boxing match.
This is where the phrase ‘mad as a March hare’ comes from. It has been around for at least 600 years, but Lewis Carroll cemented it in literary history in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where a March hare attends the Mad Hatter’s tea party. ‘The March hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won’t be raving mad – at least not so mad as it was in March,’ observes Alice.
March is the best time to witness these hare-brained creatures going the full 12 rounds. Two centuries ago there were around 4 million brown hares, but numbers have dropped by about 80 per cent in the last century.
Intensive farming has reduced their habitat and, classed as a pest, they can be shot by farmers and hunters – although coursing and beagling are now illegal.