Friday, March 25, 2016

Splitting Hares and Rabbiting on

A young hare, watercolor, 1502, Albrect Dürer —Wiki

A photographer, hoping to sell prints, conflated rabbits with snowshoe hares calling them Easter Bunnies. Augh! For the record, hares are not bunny rabbits. They're not even distant cousins either. They may look alike, but it's convergent evolution. It's a great herbivore model. But they are a very separate species, even more divergent than sheep are to goats. More like gazelles and sheep. Different genus, Genius!

The Easter Bunny was a rabbit. In the Middle Ages they were called cunnys, which rhymes with bunny and hunny. Baby cunnys were called rabbits (or kits), but that word cunny was later changed to coneys, because prostitutes were called... well, you get the picture. Coney Island. Rabbits, or....?

European cunnys/conejos (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are not native to most of Europe, they came from Iberia, they're not native to Northern Europe or Britain. Some historians think rabbits were brought to Northern Europe and Britain by the Romans. But the Romans preferred to eat doormice. So, this speculation may be wrong.

Other historians say that rabbits were introduced to Northern Europe in the middle ages. Maybe the Normans brought rabbits to Ireland. Or not. But cunnys were easy dinner fixins'. Which led to population growth, and some weird Medieval manuscript drawings of battling hares (not bunnies) well armed with lances and arrows.

Hares do not make good pets, they're not domesticated, and share few traits with rabbits. They're solitary creatures, prone to boxing and brawling. The term "mad as a March hare" came from observing their combatative breeding nuptials. (Don't preach to me about the "wrong" use of combatative vs combative. Just. Don't. It's in the OED.) How mad? Go ask Alice.

Lewis Carroll's Alice and the Mad March Hare (a European hare)—Wiki

There are 32 species of hares, and not one of them can crossbreed with rabbits (they have 48 chromosomes vs. rabbits' 44 chromosomes.) Probably a good thing too, otherwise we'd have Monty Python killer hares running amok armed with swords and whatnot whacking the bushes and kneecaps.

European explorers were terrible at identifying Old, and New World animals so there were bound to be mix-ups. Take our native hares, for example. Jackrabbits are not rabbits. They're hares. Hares are larger, have longer ears, and hind legs, and are positively antisocial as compared to cuddly wabbits.

According to H. L. Menken, "Zoologically speaking, there are no native rabbits in the United States; they are all hares." I guess he never saw a cottontail. Or perhaps fuzzy logic was involved. What he probably meant was there are no European rabbits (Oryctolagus) vs. native rabbits    in America. Which is true as cottontails (Sylvilagus) are a separate species.

Rabbits and hares from the Leporidae family (not its sub-order, Genus), which is a sub-branch of the order Lagomorpha, which includes rabbits, hares and pikas (sometimes called rock hares). Got that? It's a Kings Played Chess On Fine Grain Sand ss moment... Order, Family, Genus, Species: it goes Lagomorpha, Leporidae. And that's where the semblance ends.

North and South American cottontail rabbits Sylvilagus are the ONLY rabbit that doesn't burrow, like the hare. They're sort of a straddle-the-difference species niche. They're not Old World rabbits. They're more rabbitish than rabbity, at this point, I'm probably splitting hares. Sylvilagus xx— (13 species) are not European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus—there can be only one!), starting with its tail, and its habits. But I'm not about to list all the burrowing/ feeding differences, let alone, weird kinetic skull differences. You'll have to look them up yourself hare

BTW, since I know you're dying to ask, cottontails (Sylvilaguscannot interbreed with domestic European (Oryctolagusrabbits. Though they can do the down and dirty, and even produce embryos, European rabbits have 22 pairs of chromosomes, while native wild cottontails have 21pairs of chromosomes. Score one for DNA! At least that gene pool's clean.

Despite its name, a jackrabbit is a hare. Short for jackass-(who looks like a)-rabbit. Got that? Jacks and Jills are hares, not rabbits. A Belgian hare is not a hare, it's a true rabbit bred to look like a hare. A cottontail, on the other hand, really is a wabbit. Rabbits are social animals and make great pets. Think Peter Rabbit. Not Jack, or he'll smack the shit outta you. That goes for Jill too. Especially Jill.

Some etymology: Coney is so very close to conejo. And the word conejo itself may not be from the Latin, but borrowed into Latin from an older Iberian word. Possibly Celto-Iberian. Rabbit means a young conejo, or coney, cunny. Rabbits probably originally came from Iberia. But I'm rabbiting on. What a long, strange trip its been. 

From Wiktionary:  
"From Vulgar Latin *cuniclus, from Latin cunīculus originally ‘burrow’, of pre-Roman (probably Iberian) origin; compare Basque untxi (“rabbit”), Mozarabic qonélyo (“rabbit”) and Mozarabic qončáyr (“greyhound”). Compare Galician coello, Portuguese coelho and Italian coniglio."
Sheila Horseman (who provided the links below) noted: Interesting that the article suggests that the Welsh 'cwningen' comes from the Middle English, as the majority of Italic languages come from the Latin. Even Basque, which is very much an 'isolate' language uses 'konejoak' for rabbit. Which may explain why the name 'ysgyfarnog' doesn't hark back to the Latin.
Rabbits "did not exist in Britain until after the Norman Conquest when they were introduced into the British Isles, Wales in particular, as an important part of the food chain.
Certainly there is no record of rabbits prior to 1066 and the Welsh name for rabbit, cwningen, comes from Middle English. As such it originates from a period well after the Conquest. Even the animal's English name, rabbit, derives from the French word rabette."  BBC blog

How to Say Rabbit 

Lagomorpha Order
Pika, Hare & Rabbit
Leporidae Family includes
Hare Genus Lepus (32 + species)
Cottontail Genus Sylvilagus (13+ species)
Rabbit Genus Oryctolagus (1 species)
Plus 5 other weird genera Pronolagus and Caprolagus sometimes are called hares. Got that?

10 Medieval rabbits that hate Easter and want to kill you
The Killer Rabbit in Medieval Manuscripts
Medieval Times: Attack of the giant killer rabbits!
Violent Rabbit Illustrations Found in the Margins of Medieval Manuscript

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