Can rabbits have horns? Explain why some look like a “jackalope”
- On rare occasions, a rabbit with what looks like horns is spotted in the Midwest.
- The horns are actually growths and they have no immediate effect on rabbits.
- Some people believe that these growths inspired the creation of the mythical “jackalope”.
It’s not the Upside Down, it’s just South Dakota.
About once a year, Sioux Falls Animal Control and the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks receive reports of a rabbit with growths that look like horns or tentacles. It’s not the only place it’s happening, either: The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife says cases are reported every year. They can be found in every state in the Midwest.
The Rabbit is an odd sight, and looking at it, you might think you’ve encountered something out of American folklore.
Sioux Falls resident Dennis Schorr told KELO he saw an unusual rabbit on July 7 while walking his dog.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. I walk my dogs every day and see a lot of rabbits – but today was very unusual,” Schorr said.
But officials say there is a logical explanation. Here’s what happens.
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What causes horned growths in rabbits?
It is not a mythical animal, but rather an effect of a virus.
Unusually-looking cottontail rabbits are infected with Shope’s papillomavirus (SPV), also known as eastern cottontail papillomavirus (CRPV), a wart-like disease that affects the species . Growths appear only on the head of a rabbit.
“It’s a virus that pops up once in a while,” South Dakota state veterinarian Beth Thompson told USA TODAY. “It’s not trivial.”
Wildlife officials say people believe the growths may be the origin of the mythical “jackalope,” a rabbit-like creature from American folklore with antlers.
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Do growths have an effect on rabbits?
The growths on rabbits’ heads and faces can grow larger, but they cause no immediate effects, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Dr. Michael Oglesbee, director of the Institute of Infectious Diseases and The Ohio State University, said rabbits usually have an immune response that will get rid of the virus and the growths.
But the growths could eventually turn cancerous and life threatening, not to mention painful. So vets will surgically remove the growths “whenever possible,” Dr. Barbara Oglesbee said., veterinarian in Ohio and wife of Michael Oglesbee.
The growths could also interfere with their ability to see, eat, or drink, which could lead to starvation.
How do rabbits catch the virus?
Because SPV and CRPV are viruses, they are most likely spread through contact between infected rabbits, as well as ticks and mosquitoes, said Sioux Falls animal control officer Milo Hartson.
Thompson said his educated guess is that insects carrying the virus will bite rabbits on the head, which could explain why the growths appear there.
“Insects will target a rabbit on the ears, the eyelids, some of those areas that aren’t as covered in fur. That’s where you’ll see the growths, from the insect bite and then the virus itself,” Thompson said. .
Travis Duncan, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said cases are typically seen in the spring and summer, “which is likely associated with high densities of rabbits and possibly an increase in vectors of insects”.
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Can humans catch rabbit papillomavirus?
Humans and pets such as dogs and cats cannot contract the virus from rabbits, but the virus could spread from wild rabbits to domestic rabbits, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“In domestic rabbits, the disease is more severe than in wild rabbits and should be treated by a veterinarian,” says the department. That’s why pet rabbit owners should make sure their pets have no direct contact with wild rabbits, says Dr. Michael Oglesbee.