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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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Lessons & Units

A database of lessons and units searchable by content and cultural standards, cultural region and grade level. More units will be available soon. You can use Acrobat Reader to look at the PDF version of the Cover Sheet for the Units and Self-Assessment for Cultural Standards in Practice.




Iditarod Area School District

Sarah Hanuske-Hamilton

Elders and Local Experts:

Edna Deacon, Lina Demoski, Helen Dick, Local Experts: Philip Esai, Katherine Hamilton, Grace Holmberg, Mary Ellen Esai.-Kimball, Betty Petruska

Grade Level:

4 - 6


Winter Activity

AKRSI Region:

Interior Alaska - Athabascan


Students will learn the life cycle of the hare, its characteristics and behavior, and its habitat through the traditional activity, rabbit snaring.

Students will apply the local traditional and current subsistence skills to safely catch and prepare the hare through interaction with the Elders.

Students will learn the local traditional beliefs and values regarding the treatment of the hare and the environment along with Native language words and phrases that accompany rabbit snaring activities.

Students will develop science and math skills and concepts through the traditional activities involved in rabbit snaring.


The goals, knowledge and skills, and activities of this unit address the Alaska Science and Math Content Standards and the Cultural Standards for Students as follows:


MATH STANDARDS A student who meets the content standards should: 

A4 represent analyze, and use mathematical patterns, relations, and functions using methods such as tables, equations, and graphs;

B1 use computational methods and appropriate technology as problem-solving tools.


Skills and knowledge

A student will be able to:

1. discover and use a mathematical formula to describe the population increase of the hare.

2. analyze data from a graph to describe the predator-prey relationship.


SCIENCE STANDARDS A student who meets the content standards should:

A14A understand the interdependence between living things and their environments;

A14C understand that a small change in a portion of an environment may affect the entire environment (Interdependence);

A15 use science to understand and describe the local environment (Local Knowledge); and

Dl use the processes of science; these processes include observing, classifying, measuring, interpreting data, inferring, communicating, controlling variables, developing models and theories, hypothesizing, predicting, and experimenting.


Skills and knowledge

A student will be able to:

1. recognize the hare's habitat and describe its behavior including special adaptive characteristics.

2. describe the interdependence of the animals, plants, and humans through the food web and how population cycles are affected.

3. design snaring experiments based on knowledge of habitat and behavior of the hare.

4. list characteristics of the hare family (classification), its body structures and functions.


CULTURAL STANDARDS Students who meet the cultural standards are able to:

A4 practice their traditional responsibilities to the surrounding environment;

C1 perform subsistence activities in ways that are appropriate to local cultural traditions;

D1 acquire in-depth cultural knowledge through active participation and meaningful interaction with Elders.


Skills and knowledge 

A student will be able to:

1. describe and practice respectful behavior toward the hare and the environment.

2. describe older traditional rabbit hunting practices and retell traditional rabbit stories.

3. observe and perform all the traditional subsistence activities associated with rabbit snaring including: making snares, setting and checking snares, skinning the hare, and preparation and uses of the hare.

4. use Native language words and phrases with the activities.

5. interact respectfully with the Elders and local experts.





Elders from the Iditarod School District met in McGrath and Nikolai to advise what students should learn about rabbit snaring and to share their knowledge and wisdom. They told us that formerly rabbit was a very important source of food when other animals became scarce. During times of hardship, people had to use all resources. Maybe a time will come again when people will need these skills.

In this unit students will work with Elders and their teacher to develop subsistence and Native language skills through which they will learn and apply math and science concepts.

Four unit lessons have been developed with a variety of activities in each. The learning situation and resources will determine the order and which activities are possible. The "Habitat And Habit" and "Anatomy and Function" activities can be intermixed among the subsistence ones. Several assessments and some resource information have been included. Native language opportunities will happen more often than mentioned in the lessons. Language arts and social studies activities can be integrated into these lessons. When new math and science activities occur, be sure to add them to this unit.




I. Habitat And Habits

Habitats of Hare and Rabbit
Snowshoe Hare Habitat
Finding and Observing Tracks
Recognizing Animal and Bird Tracks
Making Casts of Tracks
Snowshoe Hare Food Chain/Web
Hare Population Increase Problem
Hare-Lynx Population Peaks and Crashes

III. Anatomy and Functions

Develop own Classification System
Traditional Animal Classification
Rabbit Family - Lagomorpha
External Anatomy of the Hare
Mammal Comparison-Teeth
Dissection-Internal Anatomy and Function


II. Snaring The Snowshoe Hare

Snaring Techniques Survey
Making A Snare
Rabbit Fences and Drives
Safety Precautions
Setting and Checking Snares


IV. Skinning and Using the Hare

Respectful Treatment of the Hare
Skinning The Hare
Traditional Uses of the flare
Traditional Food Preparation
Stories and Beliefs



As in all of the locally based cultural mini-units, the most important resource for the teacher and students is the local elders and cultural experts. They should be invited to take part in the lessons both in and out of school. Their knowledge of the animals being studied is extensive and they can also pass on to the students valuable lessons from their traditional Athabaskan culture.

Useful information for teaching this unit may also be found in the following books and publications:

Alaska Alive, Alan Dick, Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, 1998.

Alaska Mammals, Alaska Geographic Volume 8, Number 2, Anchorage, 1981 Alaska's Mammals, Dave Smith, Alaska Northwest Books, Anchorage, 1995

Ecosystems of the Great Land developed by The Northern Institute, Inc. for the Alaska Department of Education, Juneau, 1986.

Make Prayers to the Raven Richard K. Nelson, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1983.

Mammals of Alaska, Alaska Geographic Guides, Anchorage, 1996

Rabbits And Hares, Robert Whitehead, Franklin Watts, Inc. New York, 1976.

The Snow Book, Western Education Development Group, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1978.

The Wildlife Notebook Series, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, available from APLIC, 605 W. 4th, Suite 105, Anchorage, AK 99501




Habitats of Hare and Rabbit

The snowshoe hare is the animal most of the students will be snaring. Although rabbits and hares look similar and have many of the same habits, there are some important differences. Ask students to decide which animal could survive the best in their area. Show two pictures, one of a rabbit warren and one of a hare hiding in the grass.

Wild rabbits live in a warren they have dug in a hillside. It can have many tunnels, entrances, and exits. The warren can have a number of living areas for different rabbit families.

Hares live in sunken places in the grass called forms. A form is a nest where the hare's body has pushed down the grass.


Could rabbits dig deeply in the ground and form warrens where the students live? What prevents this? Is there permafrost? What is the water level? Bogs? Marshes?

When wild rabbits young, kittens, are born, they cannot see or hear and have no fur. Helpless baby rabbits do not open their eyes for 7 - 10 days. Hares young, leverets, are born fully covered with fur. They can see, hear, and even walk around after their mother has licked them dry.



The first litter of young are born in mid-May in Alaska. What are the temperatures in May? Which young would most easily survive in May in Alaska, the rabbits or the hares? Why?



Snowshoe Hare Habitat

Students will first brainstorm with their teacher about the snowshoe hares habitat. Then have them go outdoors and explore the environment as a hare would, looking for protective shelter and goad food sources. This is a pre-activity which will help students later in finding good places to set snares.

































Food and escape trails






Where does the hare live? Does it stay in the same place all day?

Does it eat the same kind of food in the winter and summer? Does a hare eat meat and/or plants? What are the dues that a hare has been eating something? What time of day do hares feed?

What adaptations does the hare have to disguise and protect itself from predators?

What does the trail system provide?

What Native names have been learned to describe the habitat?



from the Wildlife Notebook Series:

The most common and widespread hare in Alaska is the snowshoe (Le pus americanus). It is distributed over the state except for the lower Kuskokwim Delta, the Alaska Peninsula, and the area north of the Brooks Range. The arctic hare (Lepus tirnidus) is found on the western coast of Alaska and the peninsula, but is sparely distributed along the Arctic coast. Windswept rocky slopes and upland tundra is the usual habitat for the arctic hare.

from Alaska Mammals page 146:

Snowshoe hare remain in their home territory, and seldom travel more than a few hundred yards or a quarter of a mile from their birthplace. Most spend their lives within an area of no more than 100 acres. A hare pursued by dogs circles again and again through territory it is familiar with, and it is almost impossible to drive the hare out of its home range.

Most snowshoe hare have a favorite spot, usually a knoll or slight elevation where they will watch their surroundings for enemies or nearby activity. 

The hare sleeps fitfully during the day in the grass in summer or under bushes and thickets during the winter. Their trail system leads to food and shelter. Hares feed at dawn and dusk. In quiet places or on a cloudy day, they may be found feeding during the day. Their preferred winter food is willow, birch, popular, and jack pine. Unless they are starving, they feed lightly, if at all, on black spruce and green alder. They actually grow fat during the winter as each snowfall brings them to a new level of fresh buds and twigs to gnaw on. Twigs that have been cut off bluntly at a 45 degree angle indicate that hares have been feeding in the area.

The snowshoe hare is also called the varying hare because it changes color with the seasons, white in winter, grayish or brown in summer, and mottled during the change of seasons. When their camouflage color doesn't protect them, they can burst instantly out of a sitting position and leap, dodge, and twist to evade predators. The hare can outrun a fox, lynx, or wolf over a short distance.



Finding and Observing Tracks

Have the students find a variety of man-made, machine, and animal tracks. Students can work in pairs or individually.

Have the students imagine they are the advance team from another planet. They have only a short time to explore the third rock from the sun" before their spaceship leaves. They land on a day so cold that no animals, people, or machines are moving about. They find tracks in the snow and must decide what kind of life forms made these tracks. Students will analyze the tracks using the following questions and directions:

1. Draw 5 different tracks that you find. 

2. In which direction are they going?

3. Can you tell the speed at which the something was moving?

4. Can you tell how the something made the tracks, jumping, walking, sliding, rolling, etc.?

5. Can you tell what the size and weight of the something is?

6. Are there other clues in the snow besides the tracks to tell you what the something was doing?

7. Are the tracks old or fresh?

8. Make up a story for your boss back on Planet X describing the something you found on earth based on one set of tracks including the other clues you found.



Recognizing Animal and Bird Track


Have students list the hare's predators. lynx, fox, martin, weasel, hawk, owl,

Have students draw without looking the tracks of the hare and its predators; then have them compare their drawings with actual pictures of the tracks.

A concentration game could be made of the animals and their tracks. Place the cards of each face down and mix. Each player in turn picks up two cards. If there is no match, the cards are placed in their original position, If the two are a pair (animal and track), the student has another turn; otherwise, it's the next student's turn. Using the Native names of the animals on the cards is another variation.

rabbit tracks


Making Casts of Hare and Predator Tracks

Have the students work in pairs or small groups.


plaster of Paris

water spray bottles

cardboard strips 3" x 12"

toothbrush or small, stiff brush

paper cups

salt Borax (optional)


1. Choose a clear hare or predator track; spray it with a light mist of water which will harden the track with a thin coating of ice.

2. Once the track is hard, make a collar to fit around it. Push the collar down an inch into the snow and fasten with a paper clip.

3. Mix plaster of Paris and water together in the paper cup. It should be smooth like whipped cream, no lumps. Add a pinch of snow to speed up the hardening process.

4. Pour the mixture slowly and carefully into the collar until it is about 1 inch deep. Tap the collar lightly with a stick as you pour; this will help the plaster to work itself into all the little crevices.

5. Let the plaster harden for an hour, remove the collar.

6. When the face of the track is hardened and dry, lightly brush it smooth.

7. To further harden casts, boil in a solution of 5 ml Borax to 1 liter of water.

8. Casts can be painted and varnished.

9. To make a positive track, coat the first cast with petroleum jelly and follow the instructions for making the first cast. from The Snow Book



Are the tracks fresh or old?

Is the animal sitting, standing, walking, running, or darting?

What are the measured distances between the tracks?

Follow some tracks, observe the pattern, and find dues in the environment. (What did the rabbit eat? Was it frightened? By what?).

Write a story based on the tracks found.



Snowshoe Hare Food Chain/Web

Have students work in pairs or small groups to develop a food chain/web revolving around the hare. It could be illustrated with graphics, words and pictures, flow chart, or as a game.



Increase or decrease a link in the food chain/web. What is the result? Increase hare, decrease willow; increase willow, increase hare; increase trapping of lynx; increase hare, etc.

What natural occurrences change the population of plants and animals? Floods and disease decrease hare; fire encourages growth of willow and birch afterwards creating more food for the hare.



Hare Population Increase Problem

This math activity is to calculate how many offspring a pair of hare would have in five years. A female snowshoe hare has 2 to 3 litters a year starting in mid-May. Four to 6 leverets are born in each litter. The young are on their own after one month.

For the problem the hare pair will be introduced to your area which has no snowshoe hare. They will have 3 litters. The first litter averages 4, the second 6, and the third 4 for a total of 14 leverets. At the end of the first year the population would be the 14 offspring plus the two parents for a total of 16.

No hare will die for the next four years. The litters will have an equal number of female and males so that there are always an even number of hare pairs.

Have the students work in pairs or small groups to calculate how many snowshoe hare would be alive after five years if there were no predators or disease. This could also be done as a class project with the teacher facilitating the calculations. Hand out a copy of the table. Fill in the first year with the students. Also make sure they start with the correct number of pairs for the second year. See if they can develop a formula that shows the relationship.





Number Of Pair




Total Number of Parents + offspring


Total Hare Population




1 pair




2 + 14






8 pair



























Formula: The # of pair x 14 offspring per year + the # of Parents (or previous years population)

Year 2


8 pair


x 14


+ 16










+ 16






Year 3


64 pair


x 14


+ 128










+ 128






Year 4


512 pair


x 14


+ 1024










+ 1024






Year 5


4096 pair


x 14


+ 8192








+ 8192






Why does the hare population never get this large?
Predators. Two-thirds of all leverets perish within 2 weeks of birth.

What happens to the habitat when the rabbit population becomes too large?
Overgrazing of the plants and shrubs.

How does nature regulate populations that grow too large?
Disease, starvation, reduced fertility

What are some of the reasons for rises in hare population?
Little or no predation, plenty of food

Who are the natural predators of the hare?
Lynx, fox, wolf, bear, wolverines, eagles, owls and hawks

What is the result to predators when the hare population suddenly declines?
The predators also decline in population, but usually a year later.




Hare-Lynx Population Peaks and Crashes

The hare population peaks every 7 to 10 years and then crashes. Its main predator, the lynx, also peaks and crashes, but a year later.

Have the students look at the following graph.









Why do hare populations crash?
Starvation is the primary cause.

Why is the lynx population crashing just one year behind the hares?
The lynx stilt have plenty of hares to eat the year they are starving.
After the hares are dead, the lynx have no food.

Which animal controls the population of the two? Does the predator control the prey? Or does the hare control the lynx? The number of hare available determine how many lynx can Live in the area.

Small willow is the main winter food of the hare. What other animals compete with the hare for its food? The moose.

Why do lynx trappers watch the hare population?
They know when lynx wilt be scarce, and their income will drop unless the price of fur rises

When the hare population is at its peak, overbrowsing occurs. What is overbrowsing?
Eating too much brush, twigs, and branches.

Can the willow protect itself from overbrowsing?
Yes, when the willow has been eaten back too far, it produces a toxin which makes it inedible for the hare. That's when the hare population starves and crashes.

If a willow line is added to the graph, what would it look like? The willow line would be opposite the hare line. At the peak of the hare population, the willow supply would be at its lowest.

What happens when the willows recover and start to grow again? The hare population grows in response with the lynx population increasing in a year or two after the hare.





Performance Task for the Science Standards A14A and A14C Interdependence of the hare on its environment and changes that ailed it.










Correlation between willow and hare


Makes no statement


Makes statement, but incomplete or



Makes correct statement


Calculates population of hare

No attempt, picks wrong data


Incorrect attempt

but uses appropriate data


Calculates correctly


Correlation between lynx and hare


Makes no statement

Makes statement, but incomplete or inaccurate


Makes correct statement


Extends concept to livelihood made from trapping


Does not make


the suggestion

Extends in a very limited way


Extends concept to several facits of making a livelihood trapping





Survey for Snaring Techniques

Have students brainstorm with the teacher what they know about traditional ways to catch hare and where to find them. Students can develop a survey to interview Elders/local experts either in class or as homework. Information gathered should include the different types of snares used, descriptions of a rabbit drive, and a rabbit fence.

A sample table follows:












Snaring/hunting equipment





Rabbit fence





Rabbit drive





Where to catch





Describe habitat











Safety precautions





Other cultures






Native words and phrases













Making A Snare

Invite an Elder/local expert to demonstrate how to make a snare. The material needed is #2 braided picture wire. Students will make their own. They should be learning the Native language to accompany these activities.

Have students predict results of trying different snaring techniques. Here are some suggestions from Alaska Alive by Alan Dick.

There are several variables in setting a successful rabbit snare. Have students plan which experiments they will do.

Vary the size of the snares hole.

Change the height of the snare.

Experiment with snares that have a fence and those that do not.

Of the snares that have a fence, use one with live and one with dead sticks.

Also test different kinds of wire. Which is the most durable? Most people use braided picture hanging wire, but there are different thicknesses, 25 lb. 401b, 60 lb., etc.



Rabbit Fences and Drives

From the survey have students retell the information they received from the Elders. They could illustrate what they learned.


Why were the rabbit drives important in the past? How many rabbits did they obtain from a drive?

Which is a better fence? One made of dry or live sticks?



from the Nikolai workshop:

Young children observed rabbit snaring from a very early age. They were wrapped up in a blanket and pulled in a sled. Before WWII, there was not enough wire sold in the stores, so sinew was used for the snares.

To make a fence willows were knocked down. Upright willows were used to hold the horizontally stacked willows in place. The fence was built where there were lots of tracks. All winter the fence was left up. The rabbits ate the willow bark off the bushes and the fence.

Rabbit drives could be dangerous. The men had to yell to keep track of one another. Two to four people drove the rabbits; they banged sticks and cans. In the spring, the rabbits are blinded by the sun, they become confused with the noise of the people yelling and may run right towards the hunter with the gun. This way of hunting rabbits died out in the 1950's.


from Alaska Alive page 29:

Snares are usually set for rabbits between freeze-up and break-up. Rabbits can carry disease more in the summer, and people do not usually eat them unless there is nothing else. When the snow depth is great, rabbits tend to follow the same trail. When there is little or no snow, they wander all over and are much harder to catch.

We used to have rabbit drives on islands in the winter. A large group of people would start on one end of an island walking parallel down the island while making a lot of noise. A few people with .225 would wait for the rabbits on the other end of the island. This is a lot of fun, but the people with the .22's must be extremely careful, or one of the drivers could be shot.

It is also possible to have a rabbit drive, with a fence of dead sticks across the end of the island, and snares in the openings of the fence. This is much safer than shooting. The fence can be used in future rabbit drives too.

There are basically two kinds of snares, those that hang the rabbit in the air, and those that do not. The simple kind that does not hang the rabbit is easy to set but the rabbits taste a little strong because they struggle. The kind of snare that hangs the rabbit in the air dispatches the rabbit quickly, giving a better taste.



Safety Precautions

The Elders in Nikolai emphasized that setting and checking a snare could be dangerous. One must always be prepared for the unexpected.

Brainstorm with students what they should be aware of when checking snares. Have an Elder tell stories which will emphasize awareness and safety.



What could be in the snare instead of a rabbit?
ptarmigan, martin, mink, birds, or possibly a larger animal

What could be eating the rabbit? lynx, wolf, fox, wolverine, birds

What safety measure can a student take?
Carry a club and/or a gun, take an adult.



from the Elders in Nikolai:

People must treat all animals with respect, or otherwise they will disappear. One never hunts or gets any animal on ones own. An animal spirit or someone is always watching over the hunter. The animals were made by God so treat all parts with respect.

from Make Prayers to the Raven page 125:

Hares are likely to avoid the snares of someone who offends them--they will sit in the trails and look at them instead of entering them and being caught. When this happened in former times, people would rub ashes on the eyes of several dead hares while telling, "Don't look at snares.




Setting and Checking Snares

Students will learn the traditional respectful approach to performing a subsistence activity before they leave to set snares.

The students should have their experiment plans to try varing sizes of snare holes, heights of snares, different types of fences, etc.

Going out with Elders and local experts, the students should be able to identify hare habitat and tracks

Students should observe Elders/local experts setting snares and then set their own. They should be describing the locations of the snares and recording their observations. A sample table is provided.







Site #1

Site #2

Site #3


Snare Size





Snare Height





Fence/No Fence





Dry/Fresh Sticks





Date/Time Snare Set










Date/Time Snare Checked
















What is the best time of day to set/ check a snare?

Does the weather make a difference when setting / checking a snare?



Performance task self-assessment for the Cultural Standard C1 and Science Standard D1: Making, setting, and checking snares.












Made several different sized snares


No attempt


Tried needed lots of help


Completed, needed some help




Identified hare habitat and tracks


No attempt


Tried needed lots of help


Needed just a little help




Followed traditional practices


No attempt


Tried, needed lots of help


Needed just a little help




Used Native language


No attempt


Tried, needed lots of help


Needed just a little help




Followed safety precautions


No attempt


Tried, needed lots of help


Needed just a little help




Recorded observations of snares


No attempt


Tried, needed lots of help


Completed, needed some help






Depending on where the students are in their science curriculum, this activity can be used for rabbit only or be an expanded lesson on scientific classification, mammal anatomy and functions. Before students start any of the anatomy activities, be sure respectful practices are followed. The activity, "Respectful Treatment of the Hare," is found in Lesson 4 Skinning and Preparing the Hare. These activities can be interspersed with the ones in Lesson 4.


Develop Your Own Classification System


12 random objects
large piece of paper

Instructions: Working in groups have the students:

1. Draw a large circle at the top of your paper. Write the names of the twelve objects in the large circle.

2. Choose a characteristic, such as color, size, shape, sharpness, roundness, softness, etc. to divide the 12 items into 2 subgroups. Draw two circles below the large one; write the names of the items in the two circles and list the properties that divide them into the 2 subgroups.

3. Find another property in each subgroup and divide the two groups into four subgroups. List the objects in each circle and write the property/characteristic beside the circle. 

4. Continue subdividing until only one object is in each circle.

5. Have the teacher select a classroom item. Where does it fit in your classification system?

6. Compare classification systems

7. How many divisions did it take to separate all the items?

8. Compare your classification system to the one for the arctic hare. How many groups did you have?



















Traditional Animal Classification System

Are students familiar with any traditional stories? Is there a traditional classification system for fish, birds, and mammals? Are there local stories telling who rabbit/hare is related to? Have students invite an Elder to class to tell them about this.



All peoples have looked at living and non-living things and arranged them in some order that made sense to their way of thinking and living. About 350 B.C., Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and naturalist, revised the existing system of classifying plants and animals. His system was used for almost 2000 years. Then an English biologist, John Ray, devised a classification system for plants in the 1600's. The next change came in 1758 when Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, arranged living things according to their structural similarities. He divided each group into smaller and smaller groups. The smaller the group, the more alike were the living things in it.

from Make Prayers to the Raven:

The Native people also have classification systems for describing animals. When I asked about relatedness among animals, people usually answered with reference to their social behavior and personality. For example, a Distant Time story reveals that bears and porcupines are cousins, and people cite as proof their occasional sharing of a den. When relatedness is not mentioned in a story it may be revealed by a tendency to get along. Muskrats and beavers often live close together, and they eat the same kinds of plants, so they are considered relatives. Wolves may kill a loose dog, which show that the two are not related.

Animal relationships are also shown by shared characteristics, but usually not those chosen by Western taxonomists. One story of the Distant Time says that all the smaller animals were related as sisters who lived together in an underground house. These included red squirrel, mink, fox, several owl species, short-tailed weasel, ptarmigan, and others. Another related group includes the four water mammals: otter, mink, beaver, and muskrat. Stories also reveal that the raven is minks uncle. And in obviously paired species, the larger is considered the older brother to the smaller- brown bear to the black bear, for example, and flicker to the woodpecker.

The Koyukon people conceptualize a natural order, but its structure and foundation are quite different from our own. No one described to me a system of phylogeny or biological inter relatedness, but I did not probe the matter exhaustively and may have failed to ask the right questions. Such a system might exist, or perhaps the worlds make up is sufficiently explained in the stories.




Rabbit Family-Lagomorpha

Students will need to research this information. Here are some ideas to get started.


What are the differences between rabbits and hares?

What other hares/rabbits are found in Alaska. What is their range and characteristics?

What other animals are found in the order Lagomorpha? What are their similarities and differences to the snowshoe hare? Which ones are found in Alaska?

What other continents have rabbits and hares?

How do domestic rabbits differ from the snowshoe hare?



from Rabbits And Hares page 118:

Rabbits, hares, cottontails, and pikas all belong to the scientific order Lagomorpha (lag-uh-MOR-fuh), meaning "form of a hare." Rabbits and hares look so much alike that some breeds of hare have often been misnamed rabbits, for example, jackrabbits are hares and Belgian hares are rabbits.

from Alaska's Mammals page 38:

A pika looks like a guinea pig and sounds like a kazoo. There are 19 species of pikas worldwide, and one of these species is Alaska's collared pika. It is 6 to 8 inches long; 4 to 5 ounces.



External Anatomy of the Hare

Before skinning the hare, observe and draw the exterior and label body structures in English and the Native language.

Note. Follow respectful treatment of the hare from the activity in Lesson 4 Skinning and Using the Hare

Observe the special adaptations of the arctic hare:

1. Look for the two layers of fur in its coat. What does each layer do?

2. Check the nose. Inside each nostril is a sensory pad. Hares are often seen sniffing the air. Why are they doing this?

3. Hares have larger ears than rabbits. How do large ears help a hare?

4. Describe the hare's hind feet. Measure the length of a hind foot. What are its characteristics and how does this help the hare?



The underfur is soft, wooly, and thick with the longer, tougher guard hairs growing out of it. They give the fur its color. Every year the hare molts. The old guard hairs are lost, and new ones grow in. Since the hare is out in all kinds of weather, these two coats of fur keep it warm and dry

Hares and rabbits have a keen sense of smell used to detect predators. The hare has extremely good hearing. Their ears swivel independently.

The front feet have five toes each, but the back feet have only four. The feet are covered with coarse hair that is longer in the winter. Most other animals have pads of tough skin on the soles of their feet. The hairy soles help them get a better grip on slippery rocks and ice. The hare spreads its long toes wide so its weight is distributed across a greater surface on the snow. It travels over the snow more easily than any other animal, giving it greater mobility to get away from its predators.


Dissection-Internal Anatomy and Function

After the hare is skinned (see Lesson 4 for information on skinning), have the Elder demonstrate how to cut it up for cooking. While cleaning and sectioning, body systems and functions can be reviewed.

Consider taking the sinew from the back. Thread can be made. This is a suggested activity under "Traditional Uses" in the next lesson


Mammal Comparison - Teeth

Using a hare caught for the class, review with students the characteristics of a mammal.

vertebrates-have a backbone
outer covering
- hair
warm blooded
babies born live
feed milk to young


Mammal eat a variety of foods; some feed on only insects, others eat plants. Those called carnivores are flesh-eaters. Some animals eat a combination of foods. By looking at a mammals teeth, you can usually tell what it eats.

Review the four kinds of teeth found in mammals. Use pictures or animal skulls; students can look at their own teeth.





Compare the teeth on a hare skull with other mammals (include a flesh eater).



Compare the appearance of the hare's teeth and ____________ their incisors are (short, long, large, small) and (blunt, pointed, sharp, chisel-like). How are their teeth used?

The hare has (large, small, no) canine teeth. The ______ has (large, small, no) canine teeth. What is the function of the canine teeth? Which animals have premolars? Which have none?

Compare molars of animals. Which have molars for cutting flesh, and which have molars for grinding plant fibers?

What are the Native names for the animals being compared?



Gnawing animals like rodents and rabbits/hares have large chisel-like incisor teeth. These incisor teeth never stop growing. Rodentia such as mice, beavers, squirrels, and porcupine and Lagornorpha , rabbits, hares, and pikas, must constantly gnaw on plants to keep them worn down, If they don't, they will not be able to eat properly and will starve. Hares gnaw like rodents, but they have an extra pair of small teeth behind their upper incisors. They have two kinds of teeth, very sharp incisors for cutting and molars for grinding. Between the molars and the incisors there is a wide gap, or diastema. This is used to store food while nibbling. Hares move their jaws from side to side in order to chew properly, while rodents move their jaws back and forwards.






Respectful Treatment of the Hare

Have an Elder or local expert explain how a snared hare is treated and why.

Why is it important to treat the dead animal with respect?



from the Elders workshop in Nikolai:

Several ways were shared in which to show respect for the rabbit. In Nikolai a small nick was made in the hind leg before skinning. In Shageluk the rabbit was put behind the stove, and children were told not to make any noise. A variation was to wrap a flour sack towel around the rabbits head and leave it overnight before skinning. The rabbits spirit was still around, and it wasn't to be disturbed. Otherwise the rabbit wouldn't come around anymore. Long ago in Lime Village when men and women brought lots of rabbits home, they were brought in through the window not the door. This would insure that there would be more rabbits around.

The bones are not given to dogs; they are strong and sharp and could choke a dog. Bones should not be walked on. They should be cut up and placed back where the animals came from.

from Make Prayers to the Raven. page 125:

When snowshoe hares are brought home for butchering, they should be treated respectfully to sustain a good relationship with their spirits. People used to break their hind legs when they were brought inside the house to thaw. This kept their spirits from "running around," which would be dangerous for anyone nearby. Once hares are brought indoors they should remain there until they are skinned; and they should not be taken back out the same day (this rule also applies to fur bearers). I learned no special ways to dispose of hare remains, but Sullivan (1942:111) writes that the Nulato Koyukon put the bones in an out-of-the-way place and keep them away from the dogs. I suspect that the Koyukuk River people would agree though they may not follow this very strictly today.



Skinning the Hare

Invite Elders / local experts to teach the students how to skin the hare. Students can observe, participate, and record the activity in a variety of ways:

video, journals, report, pictures, drawings.

As a precaution rubber gloves should be used when skinning. The disease, Tularemia, has been found in some hares in Alaska.



from the Nikolai workshop:

The rabbit is skinned in one piece and left to dry with the fur inside. When the skin is held up, people could see that it was the natural way to make clothing in one piece - a parka with a hood.


from Make Prayers to the Raven page 125:

Hares are skinned by peeling the hide off from the rear, turning it inside out the way some people do when they remove their socks.



Traditional Uses of the Hare

Students can survey their Elders and local experts or invite them to class to tell about traditional uses. Some projects may be suggested if enough rabbit skins are collected. A relaxing project is to make samples of thread from sinew.



from the Nikolai Elder's workshop:

Rabbit skin is warm, but it tears easily. It is used for liners in mittens, boots, and hats. Blankets are made by either sewing the skins together or cutting a long spiral strip down the skin. Using many strips a blanket is then crotcheted.

Rabbit skins were always used for small children. Wolverine or other large animals were not used as their spirits are too strong for young children. Young children had rabbit skin parkas. Rabbit skins were used as diaper lining in the birch bark cradles and also as liners for a woman's monthly period.

Before baby bottles the rabbit skin would hold nutritious blackfish juice. The baby could suckle on the arm part which would make a nipple. this would save a baby whose mother had died or perhaps the baby had been adopted.

Rabbit sinew was taken from the back to make thread. In Shageluk the feet were used as paint brushes. In other areas the feet were used to wash dishes.



Traditional Food Preparation

Discuss the diet changes that have occurred because different animal populations have increased or decreased in number over the years. Moose which is common now was seldom seen in former times.

Have students collect traditional rabbit recipes and prepare one or more of the dishes for the Elders and local experts who helped with this unit. Learn the Native names for these dishes.



from Elders in Nikolai

Small game was very important to survival, because moose were rare in the Iditarod area in olden times. Moose first appeared in Nikolai in 1930. A good rabbit stew has the liver squeezed into it. The rabbit delicacies are in the backbone and ribs. There is not much meat, but it is very tasty meat. The head is also a delicacy; people like the brains and rib cage. The closer the meat is to the bone, the better it tastes.

from Make Prayers to the Raven. page 215:

Going back thirty years Koyukon people subsisted primarily on snowshoe hare, grouse, ptarmigan, beaver, muskrat, and fish. The only large animals available were bears, which were hunted extensively, but could not be taken in large numbers. The older Koyukon usually emphasize their former dependence on snowshoe hares and ptarmigan through the winter months, and on fish in the summer and fall. Of these, snowshoe hares are often singled out as most important, because they happened to be plentiful during the years after caribou vanished and before moose had arrived here. A Huslia man recalled his mother bringing in catches of forty hares from routine checks of her snare line. "If it wasn't for rabbits," an elder once told me, "we wouldn't be alive today."

Hares are usually cooked in the stewpot-the meat, head, heart, liver, and intestines are all eaten. The koleeyo', a part of the viscera, is not eaten by woman lest their children born afterward cry too much.






Traditional Stories and Beliefs

Have students learn and retell stories and beliefs from the Elders and local experts.



from Edna Deacon at the Nikolai workshop:

In former times a young woman would be tested by her future mother-in-law. A young couple left to snare rabbits for 5 to 6 days. The young couple received some food to eat but they were not to eat the rabbits. The young woman had to skin the rabbit, dry the meat, heart, liver, and intestines. When the young couple returned they were weak from hunger, but she passed the test. All the meat and body parts matched with the number of dried skins.

from Make Prayers to the Raven page 125:

Hares are invested with a fairly powerful spirit, but it has little of the malevolence that characterizes some of the other animals so endowed. A Distant Time story includes a song that the hare-man sang, and people can still sing it to bring themselves luck in catching these animals.

Stealing hares from someone else's sets invites spiritual retaliation, though not as severe as with animals like the wolverine. Bad luck or illness could befall the offender.



Whouy Sze Kuinalth
"Teaching Our Many Grandchildren"
Tauhna Cauyalitahtug
(To Make a Drum)
Math Story Problems
St. Lawrence Island Rain Parka Winds and Weather Willow
Driftwood Snowshoes Moose
Plants of the Tundra Animal Classification for Yup'ik Region Rabbit Snaring
The Right Tool for the Job
Fishing Tools and Technology
Blackfish Family Tree
Medicinal Plants of the Kodiak Alutiiq Archipelago Beaver in Interior Alaska Digging and Preparing Spruce Roots
Moose in Interior Alaska Birds Around the Village Dog Salmon


Handbook for Culturally Responsive Science Curriculum by Sidney Stephens
Excerpt: "The information and insights contained in this document will be of interest to anyone involved in bringing local knowledge to bear in school curriculum. Drawing upon the efforts of many people over a period of several years, Sidney Stephens has managed to distill and synthesize the critical ingredients for making the teaching of science relevant and meaningful in culturally adaptable ways."



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Last modified August 18, 2006