UM graduate student Matt Jones uses hares to study seasonal variation
Fig. 1: UMZM snowshoe hare study skins show seasonal coat color variation
Biologists are interested in understanding how animals adapt to their surroundings. In environments that change seasonally (think western Montana!) mammals such as hamsters, weasels, jackrabbits, and foxes have evolved the ability to change the color of their fur coats from brown in the summer to white in the winter and back to brown in the spring. This fascinating adaptation allows animals to blend in with their environment to avoid being caught by predators or detected by prey. With his research, Matt is trying to understand how snowshoe hares, a species of mammal closely related to rabbits, have evolved to perform this amazing feat. As a part of this research, he wants to understand the changes in color and color pattern that occur to individual hairs as spring turns to winter. Matt is using UMZM snowshoe hare specimens in the collected right around Missoula to help him answer this question. He is sampling a small number of hairs from both brown and white snowshoe hare museum specimens (see picture) and measuring how the color and color patterning of hairs changes as winter approaches. This will help us to understand what might be happening at the microscopic level within hair follicles to produce white winter coats.