noun: a mythical animal of North American folklore described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns.

This is my “J” contribution to the “A to Z Challenge.”

I can’t really pinpoint when I first started my interest in the mythological creature known as the Jackalope, but it has persisted, even more now that I’ve done some research on them.

Head of a Jackalope — Image by © Chase Swift/CORBIS

The folklore of the Jackalope was started by a man named Douglas Herrick of Douglas, Wyoming in 1939.

According to Legends of America:

The whole thing started as a bit of a happy accident. Douglas and his brother Ralph had returned from a hunting trip one day, and when Ralph threw the dead jackrabbit on the floor of Douglas’ shop, it happened to skid to a stop right against a pair of deer antlers. After Ralph remarked that it looked like a “rabbit with horns,” Douglas – who was a taxidermist by trade – decided to mount it.

After a while, the brothers began to sell the “jackalopes” to the public, and before long they were everywhere in the American West. In fact, the jackalopes of Douglas, Wyoming became so popular that in the late 1940’s the city proclaimed itself the “Jackalope Capital of the World.”

In 1965, downtown Douglas became the home of an eight-foot concrete statue of the famous jackalope, in addition to the rest of the jackalope marketing about town, including a 13-foot tall jackalope cutout on a hillside.

Currently, Douglas hosts an annual Jackalope Day in June, and the Douglas Chamber of Commerce continues to issue out thousands of jackalope hunting licenses each year despite rules that state the hunter cannot have an IQ higher than 72 and can only hunt between midnight and 2 AM on June 31st.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop has more information to share on the “tall tale” portion of the Jackalope:

  • they can mimic people, and cowboys would often tell stories of hearing their campfire songs sung back to them on lonely nights in the wild
  • they only mate during thunderstorms under the lightning, because why not
  • you can lure them into live traps with whiskey as bait
  • lastly, jackalope milk is a pure aphrodisiac, and if you believe that, I have a river in Egypt to sell you

This all being said, there is some fact to the fiction of the Jackalope.

Turns out that rabbits CAN sprout horns, just not antlers necessarily. This was discovered by Dr. Richard E. Shope, who became interested in the subject after studying drawings of horned bunny rabbits from as early as the 1500’s. Dr. Shope theorized that the horns were a result of a virus, and his hunch proved correct.

The horns that grow are made of keratin, similar to our hair and fingernails, and are a viral mutation at the cellular level due to the Shope papilloma virus. Interestingly enough, it can also affect humans, and Shope’s research helped pave the way for the human papillomavirus vaccine.

The Jackalope remains a popular critter in states such as Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and the Dakotas. You can even find a cute and cuddly version in Wyoming, MN – thanks to my husband Thomas getting me one for Valentine’s Day.

Until next time, hoppy trails!

❤ Linz

(Featured image of this post is courtesy of Taxiderpy.)