17 December 2020

The Scottish fox and the mountain hare saw each other at the same moment. The hare scrunched down as close to the ground as he could get, and stayed as motionless as possible. The fox watched for a few moments, then wandered over and stood beside the hare.

   “Boo!” said the fox.

   The hare didn’t move.

   “Boo!” said the fox, again.

   “Leave me alone,” said the hare. “Can’t you see I’m hiding?”

   The fox studied the hare for a moment, then looked around them. “You’re hiding?” he asked, with a good deal of skepticism.

   “Yes. I’m white. You can’t see me.”

   “Well, I agree with you, in part. You are white, but you are a fairly large lagomorph crouched down on a grassy brown and green hillside. In truth, you are rather conspicuous.”

   The hare kept his face buried in his fur. “No. It’s winter. Snow. White fur. I’m camouflaged. You can’t see me.”

   “I suggest you take a look around,” said the fox.

   The hare didn’t move. “Is this a trick? If I move, you’ll see me, and I’ll soon be your lunch.”

   “Trust me. I’m not hungry. You’re safe.”

   The hare raised his head. His eyes grew large, and his jaw dropped open. “No snow,” he said.

   “No snow,” agreed the fox.

   “But I’ve turned white for the winter, so I’ll be camouflaged from predators like you. It’s the first of December – winter! – but there’s no snow.” He glanced around, again. “This is serious!”

   “That’s probably an understatement,” agreed the fox.

   This took some thought, which the hare took. “So, where’s the snow?” he asked, finally

   The fox adopted his most scholarly, lecture-ready, voice. (Note: This is more difficult than it might seem, because every sound a fox makes – including its howl – is quite high-pitched.)

   “Climate Change, my friend; you are experiencing the effects of Climate Change. In the last 50 years, snow cover in the Highlands has decreased an average of 37 days per year. The earliest  snow cover is four days later now, and the last spring snows are a week earlier. However, the molt pattern for your species hasn’t changed, meaning that you turn white before the snow comes, and stay white after it goes. That means you stick out like a sore thumb for over a month most years.”

   “What’s a ‘thumb’?” asked the hare.

   The fox looked down at the hare’s furry paws. “Right; not the best idiom. Let’s just say you are much more conspicuous than you should be.” 

   Both animals were silent for a bit. “So,” asked the hare, a little timorously, “What happens now? Do you eat me?”

   The fox laughed. “No, you’re safe. As I said, I’m not hungry right now (bad luck for one of your relatives, yesterday). Besides, I like my predatory activities to be a little more of a challenge.” He started to walk away, but turned back for a moment. “And it is nearing Christmas. Consider this an early gift.”

   “But what am I supposed to do about my predicament?” the hare called after him.

   The fox thought for a minute. “That’s a toughie. If you could find an old overcoat to drape around you, that might be good. Otherwise, I’d just suggest keeping a very low profile until the snows come.”

*  *  *

Afterword: This is a true story – well, I don’t know if the fox and the hare really had that conversation, but the basic premise is real. The pelage change of Scottish hares is definitely out of sync with modern snowfalls. They could adapt over time, but Climate Change is happening much faster than genetic change can keep up with. 


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