Summary. In brown hares, which are induced ovulators, sexual behaviour occurs episodically at the beginning of pregnancy. From Day 34 (length of pregnancy is 41 days), the frequency of sexual chases followed by mating, ovulation and fertilization increased and 59% of pregnant females presented a natural superfoetation. The pattern of circulating luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), oestradiol and progesterone was studied in 13 pregnant females left permanently with a male, and in 10 females isolated from males around Day 20 of pregnancy. In the 2 groups, FSH concentrations were high at the beginning and end of pregnancy. All females presented a peak value of FSH in the last 4 days of pregnancy, regardless of mating stimuli. This peak value was higher for females left permanently with a male than for isolated ones. Oestradiol concentrations fluctuated between 20 and 100 pg/ml, without any clear correlation with sexual behaviour, stage of pregnancy or profiles of other hormones. Prepartum matings occurred when progesterone values were still > 50 ng/ml; they were followed by a transient rise in LH and by a periovulatory progesterone secretion, with values above 100 ng/ml in the morning after mating. Such modifications of LH and progesterone were not detected before Day 34, suggesting that mating stimuli are not able to induce an LH surge at the beginning of pregnancy. After Day 34, mating can induce an LH surge, ovulation and superfoetation.
Keywords: brown hare; sexual behaviour; pregnancy; superfoetation; steroids; gonadotrophins