City Cast

What's the Deal With Jackalopes?

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on October 17
Photo of a mounted jackalope head.

Get ready to plunge down a rabbit hole. (RyanJLane/Getty)

When it comes to the natural world, the out-there vibe of Halloween invites us to consider not only the usual bats, spiders, and newts, but also more speculative creatures. For instance, the jackalope. Luckily, Reno author Michael Branch has done a lot of the work for us in his recent book “On the Trail of the Jackalope.” Here’s a horned-rabbit dossier:

Where Did Jackalopes Originate?

According to Branch’s research, some details the jackalope’s origin story are not entirely nailed down, but it appears that in the 1930s or early ’40s, two young brothers in Wyoming, budding taxidermists, inadvertently set a dead rabbit next to a dead deer in their shop, and an idea 💡 was hatched. They sold that one to a local hotel for $10. Their family still makes jackalopes today, Branch writes.

Why Are They Popular?

Branch: “The horned rabbit’s wild hybridity is captivating because it invites us into a strange species of joy that results from a blurring of the boundaries between the actual and the mythical.” No surprise, then, that many cultures include some version of a jackalope.

Were There Real Jackalopes?

Sort of! In the 1930s, a scientist in New Jersey began studying certain dead jackrabbits found in Iowa. They were called “warty rabbits” due to hornlike bumps on their heads. They turned out to be tumors. Eventually, warty rabbits from other places — including Nevada — were studied and this led, eventually, to a greater understanding of the role viruses play in cancer formation — and to the HPV vaccine. In 1966, a virologist named Peyton Rous won a Nobel Prize for work built on that research.

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