A couple of stories I’ve been working on pull heavily from stuff you’d classify as Tall Tales: Paul Bunyon, Pacos Bill, that sort of thing. Because I don’t just want the people to be over the top, but also the wildlife, I’ve been doing some research into animals that I think would be appropriate in the same kind of story. It didn’t take long at all before I figured jackalopes would fit right in. When you have giant blue oxes wandering around, a rabbit with antlers doesn’t seem too silly. Or, maybe it is silly, but it’s a silly that’s in keeping with the other silliness, right?
Anyway, so I start bouncing around (ha!), trying to figure out what there is in the way of “lore” for the jackalope. I was pleasantly surprised to find all sorts of crazy details I could use, but also more than a little bemused to find that the jackalope is just one of what seems like an oddly widespread range of rabbit hybrid critters.
I’ll stop right here and make it clear: I’m no folklore expert (or medical expert in the case of Shope papilloma). What follows is just what I’ve gathered from link clicking and googling. There will be no Grand Unified Theory of Lepus here, just some amateur compiling.
First, because sometimes reality is a whole lot more messed up than anyone’s taxidermic fantasy, there’s the likeliest source for all these horned rabbit myths (aside from, of course, “bored taxidermists with spare parts lying around”): The Shope papilloma virus. Shope papilloma causes large, horn-like tumors to grow on rabbits’ skin. Usually around the head. The pictures I found were both terrifying and heartbreaking at the same time: what looks like big, nasty horns and fangs can eventually become so large that the victim is no longer able to eat, so the rabbit starves to death. Don’t google that one if you’re at all sensitive, folks.
One upside of the disease is that apparently research on affected rabbits and the virus itself was part of the model used to help develop the HPV vaccine. So, there’s that. But you’re not here for medical realities. You’re here to read about crazy hybrid rabbits, so let’s get to them.
We’ll start with the skvader. Apparently the Swiss were less impressed by horns, so their taxidermic experiments in folklore grafted wood grouse wings onto a rabbit. Now, not only did you have to worry about rabbits burrowing in under your fence to steal your vegetables; they could just fly over the bloody fence.
Completely unsatisfied with either / or options, Bavarians spliced both antlers and wings onto the wolpertinger. Also, because flying, antler-goring attacks weren’t enough, they added fangs. Which makes sense, really; it’s not a good, Germanic fairy tale creature if it can’t eat you, now is it? See, you thought Monty Python was just pulling that man-eating rabbit out of thin air, but actually, we now see they just did better research.
Hybrid / mutant rabbits don’t appear to be an exclusively European construct, either. While I have a lot harder time finding actual sources on it, there does appear to be a hybrid rabbit creature in some Islamic poetry, too: the Al-mi’raj. This one only has a single horn, which is usually drawn as straight and tapering. So rabbit-narwhal, I suppose. Or rabbit-unicorn, depending on your preferences.
So, you know, maybe Bullwinkle wasn’t pulling the wrong thing out of his hat. He was just grabbing another hybrid variant.