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Animal Oddities – The Jackalope Disease

Rabbit with Shopes Papilloma VirusThere is an old myth of a creature that roams the plains, a crazy lookin’ cryptid that rolls with the tumbleweeds through the frontier of the southwestern United States. It is only caught by the eyes of a fellow who’s been smiled on by Lady Luck, but it is well known by even those who’ve never been to the southwest. This wily critter has the body of the rabbit, but the antlers of the antelope. It’s been said that its milk is like medicine and its meat like lobster. It is best lured out by using whisky as bait, but it can mimic human voices in order to elude pesky hunters. Sometimes it has been known to be dangerous if cornered! This, my friends, is the jumpin’ jackalope! Or is it??

Believe it or not, there is a sort of jackalope wandering the wilderness, but he is not the character of long running folklore. This unlucky little varmint is actually an ordinary cottontail that is victim of a very rare disease called Shope papilloma virus, also known as cottontail rabbit papilloma virus or CRPV. It is a real “Jackalope Disease” discovered in the 1930’s by Dr. Richard E. Shope. CRPV is a species specific virus that causes hard horn-like tumors to sprout and continue to grow from the faces, necks, and heads of rabbits. As the tumors grow, they often inhibit the unfortunate animal’s ability to eat and drink, causing an eventual death due to starvation. CRPV may be passed from rabbit to rabbit. Though it is extremely rare, this disease can also be passed to domestic rabbits. A pet rabbit would have to come into direct contact with a victim of CRPV to become infected, so fortunately our sheltered pets never need to worry about being exposed.

It is widely believed that the rise of the Jackalope tale is rooted in sightings of these poor, sick rabbits hopping around wild in the west.  Before the disease’s official discovery and description, jackalopes really did exist (at least to some degree). So think of it this way, if the jackalope is real, what other beasts of cryptic lore could be alive and well out there? I don’t know about you, but I’m staying out of Loch Ness!

Thanks for reading,

Rabbit with CRPV image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by WD45

About jeppley

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Jess has been an employee at That Fish Place/That Pet Place since 2005, stationed in both the Reptile and Small Animal rooms. She specializes in small animal care, and focuses particularly on rats, giving her the nickname of “The Rat Girl” by her customers and fellow employees. She has an Associate degree in Liberal Arts from Penn State York and is currently attending English courses online at University of Maryland University College. Her passion has always been animals and she has owned just about every variety of them, including cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, and even millipedes! She also loves writing and is working on publishing a series of young adult fantasy novels.
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