There’s certainly no shortage of interesting bunny facts. These cute little critters have made their appearances in cartoons, during the Easter holiday, in state fair exhibits, and possibly at times in your garden. In the latter instance, they may seem to be more of a nuisance than cute. Cute or not, there are some fascinating facts surrounding these animals, ten of which are given here and are about real rabbits. This is followed by several discussions addressing the origins of the name “bunny,” sources and origins of rabbit folklore, and several famous ones with which you are most likely familiar.
1. A rabbit is not a rodent, it is a lagomorph. A lagomorph is a plant eating mammal that has two pairs of upper incisors. It also has fully-furred feet. Rats and squirrels do not have fully-furred feet and are considered rodents. Bunnies have fully-furred feet and thus are lagomorphs.
2. Rabbits are well-known for being prolific reproducers. Over the centuries, they became symbols of fertility in some cultures. As Christianity spread, this symbol of fertility, also a symbol of spring and new beginnings, worked its way into the Easter tradition – particularly in Germany as will be discussed later.
3. Rabbits and hares are related but are not the same species. Hares are born with their eyes open and their bodies already covered with fur. Most species of hare can move about soon after their birth. Rabbits are born blind, naked, and are helpless for the first few weeks of life. Babies are called kits, although many people tend to refer to them as little bunnies.
4. Although they differ significantly in appearance and certainly in size, rabbits and horses have many things in common. Their eyes, teeth, and ears are quite similar in structure. A horse’s ears appear shorter primarily because the horse is a much larger animal. The diet of these two animals, at least in the wild, is quite similar. They also share a number of behavioral characteristics.
5. Rabbits in the wild typically live 3 to 5 years but tend to live nearly twice as long in captivity. The reason for this is that they are prey animals. The oldest one on record lived to be 16 years old.
6. While Western civilizations speak of “The Man in the Moon,” in Japan it is a rabbit that the craters, shadows, and patches in the moon are said to depict. In Japanese folklore, they live on the moon where they make a confection called “sticky rice.” In China, the rabbit is one of the twelve celestial signs in the Chinese Zodiac. Such is not the case in neighboring Vietnam. It is not native to Vietnam.
7. In several cultures, a rabbit’s foot is supposed to mean good luck, but there is an area in England where it has traditionally meant bad luck. This dates back several hundred years to when fences were made by accumulating piles of stones lying in the fields. These stone fences could be quite high at times. Rabbits would burrow beneath them and, at times, cause a portion of a fence to collapse. This could occasionally injure or kill someone. This also ties in with a popular belief in many cultures that it is a trickster, fond of mischief and playing jokes on people.
8. There are at least 22 species of rabbits belonging to eight different genera. One of the more common species is the European rabbit. There are eight different species of cottontails, the majority of which are native to North America. Another North American species is the pygmy rabbit. There are also striped, brush, swamp, and even volcano rabbits.
9. While rabbits cannot easily defend themselves against larger predators, they are masters of the art of detecting and evading predators. A rabbit has, for all practical purposes, 360 degree vision in that it can see what is going on in front and behind without having to turn its head. It does, however, have an inconsequential blind spot in front of the tip of its nose. It also has keen hearing and a keen sense of smell. It can run fast and will often run in a zigzag pattern to avoid predators.
10. Rabbits communicate with one another by making what humans would regard as low, humming sounds. They also warn one another of impending danger by thumping a hind foot on the ground.
Bunnies, Folklore, and Celebrities
There have been a large number of famous, real-life dogs and horses over the years, but not too many rabbits have made the headlines. There are many tales from folklore of various cultures concerning these animals. These tales often date back many centuries. Over the past hundred years or so, several fictional rabbits have become hugely popular, especially among children.
Here are five bunny facts you may find to be of interest if you are not already aware of them.
It All Started with “Bun”
For starters, you may be wondering where the name “bunny” originated. It certainly bears no resemblance whatsoever to the word “rabbit” or for that matter to the word “hare.” The true origin of the word “bunny” isn’t exactly clear, although it appears to have come into use around the 16th century. It is either an English or Scottish word that once was used to describe a small animal, usually a squirrel or a rabbit. The word was actually bun, and not bunny. Bunny did not come along until sometime later.
One theory is that bun came into being because it is the shape of a rabbit’s tail. That theory doesn’t, however, explain why bun was used to describe a squirrel since a squirrel’s tail doesn’t exactly resemble a bun, unless the bun is unraveling. The word may also have its origins in the Gaelic language. The Gaelic word bun means “a stump.” That could, of course, apply to a rabbit’s tail, but still does not explain why the word was sometimes used to describe a squirrel. A bun is also used to describe a small cake or roll, but even here its origin is obscure.
The Original Bunny Was a Person, Not a Rabbit
It was sometime during the 17th century that the word “bunny” came into use as a term of endearment. It had nothing to do with the animal. It was only later that “bunny” was used not only as a term of endearment, but also a word meaning a bun or a rabbit. If anyone should ask you why a rabbit is sometimes called a bunny, it might be best to simply say not only is it a long story, but at the end of the story the reason still will not be all that clear. Today, the word bunny can mean a rabbit or a person pictured in the centerfold of Playboy magazine.
The Easter Bunny
If you wonder when the Easter bunny first came into being, or for that matter why one of the Easter traditions is an egg hunt, you might ask someone who is a student of German culture. Of the various Easter traditions celebrated today, the Easter parade probably dates back the longest at nearly 2,000 years. Some consider Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to be the basis for the celebration, and it is known that parades were held in the very earliest days of Christianity.
Decorating eggs for Easter came about quite a bit later, around the 13th century to be exact. The Easter bunny came into the picture even later than that. Exactly when it came about isn’t clear. What is known is that the Easter bunny is a creation of German folklore. The Osterhase, roughly translated as “Easter hare,” was an egg-laying rabbit that left colored eggs in nests children would prepare every Easter. This tradition was somewhat similar to children hanging up their stockings for Santa Claus to fill. German immigrants brought the tradition of the egg-laying rabbit to America in the 18th century, thereby adding to our storehouse of unusual bunny facts.
The Cartoon Bunny
Bugs Bunny was born in 1940 and, of course, was a fully-grown rabbit from day one. By this time the words bunny and rabbit were, of course, synonymous. Bugs may be a rabbit or a hare and has been called both, but his nemesis, Elmer Fudd, seemed to prefer referring to Bugs as “that wascally wabbit.” “Bugs,” by the way, was the nickname of one of his creators. Mel Blanc was the voice of Bugs Bunny from 1940 until Bugs’ appearance in Who Killed Roger Rabbit in 1988. You can add to your list of bunny facts that Bugs Bunny was the first cartoon character to appear on a U.S. postage stamp, an event that happened in 1997.
Peter Rabbit, Peter Cottontail and Br’er Rabbit
Roughly forty years before Bugs Bunny made his appearance, another children’s favorite came on the scene. This was Beatrix Potters’ Peter Rabbit. He made his first appearance in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, published in 1902, and appeared again in four additional books written by Potter. Another Peter Rabbit, written by another author, Thorton Burgess, appeared in the Old Mother West Wind Series. The name was later changed to Peter Cottontail, for whom a song was written, and still later back to Peter Rabbit.
Even before Peter Rabbit and Peter Cottontail came on the scene, there was Br’er Rabbit, a character in the Uncle Remus stories. Bugs Bunny has a reputation for being somewhat of a troublemaker, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Br’er Rabbit, who not only caused problems for others, but for himself as well. The most famous example is related by Uncle Remus in Br’er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby. Many of the Br’er Rabbit tales are said to have their origin in Cherokee folklore.
Insofar as fictional rabbits are concerned, mention should be made of the White Rabbit, the bunny who was late for a very important date and whom Alice followed down a rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.
It should also be noted that rabbits make great domestic pets. They are easily trainable and can be taught to do tricks. There are also numerous bunny facts addressing rabbit clubs, shows, associations, and magazines.