The myth of the mad March hare


From literature1, proverb2 and scientific publications3–6, two aspects of the behaviour of the brown hare, Lepus capensis, are well known. First, they ‘go mad’ in March. Second, boxing is their most spectacular form of male–male competition for mates. Here we show that ‘madness’ is no more a feature of March than of the other months of their long breeding season, and that boxing does not represent intrasexual competition but an interaction between the sexes whereby a female attempts to prevent a male from mating. Finally, we discuss why misleading statements about hare behaviour have remained unchallenged for centuries.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Carrol, L. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1982).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Brewer, E. C. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Cassei, Fetter & Galpin, London, 1894).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Darwin, C. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (Murray, London, 1871).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Vesey-Fitzgerald, B. British Game (Collins New Naturalist, London, 1946).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Harrison Matthews, L. British Mammals (Collins New Naturalist, London, 1952).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Lincoln, G. A. J. Zool. 174, 1–14 (1974).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Corbet, G. B. & Southern, H. N. The Handbook of British Mammals 2nd edn (Blackwell, Oxford, 1977).

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Hewson, A. & Taylor, M. Acta theriol. 20, 247–254 (1975).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Broekhuizen, S. & Maaskamp, F. J. Zool. 193, 499–516 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Broekhuizen, S. & Maaskamp, F. Z. Säugetierk. 47, 22–32 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Emlen, S. T. & Oring, L. W. Science 197, 215–223 (1977).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Holley, A., Greenwood, P. The myth of the mad March hare. Nature 309, 549–550 (1984).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.