The Jackalope: A Mythical Creature with a Real History

Jackalope image courtesy of FunWearVm – Remember, descriptions vary and nothing is exact. This is only an imagined depiction of what this cryptid may look like.

The jackalope is a legendary animal that looks like a rabbit with antlers, and it is said to inhabit the American West. Some people claim to have seen it, others have mounted its head on their walls, and still others have made it into a symbol of their businesses or products. But what is the truth behind this mysterious creature? Is it real or just a hoax? And what does it have to do with cancer research?

The Origins of the Jackalope

The word jackalope is a portmanteau of jackrabbit and antelope, two animals that are native to North America. However, the idea of a horned rabbit is not unique to this continent. In fact, there are similar legends and depictions of rabbits with horns or antlers in various cultures and historical periods around the world.

For example, in medieval Europe, there were stories and illustrations of lepus cornutus (horned hare) or wolpertinger (a hybrid creature with various animal parts), which may have been inspired by sightings of rabbits infected with a virus that causes horn-like growths on their skin. In China, there is a mythical creature called the yutu (jade rabbit) that lives on the moon and has antlers. In Mexico, there is a folk tale about a horned rabbit that helps a man escape from a witch.

The American version of the jackalope is usually traced back to the 1930s, when two brothers named Douglas and Ralph Herrick from Douglas, Wyoming, started making taxidermy mounts of rabbits with deer antlers. They sold their creations to a local hotel, where they attracted the attention of tourists and hunters. Soon, the jackalope became a popular souvenir and a symbol of the town. The Herricks also claimed that they had seen live jackalopes in the wild, and that they were fierce and dangerous animals that could mimic human voices and outrun horses.

The Herricks’ jackalopes became a sensation, and soon other taxidermists followed suit. Jackalope souvenirs, postcards, and memorabilia flooded the market, and the mythical creature became a symbol of the American West. Jackalopes also appeared in popular culture, such as books, movies, TV shows, video games, and even a musical. In 2005, the Wyoming legislature considered making the jackalope the state’s official mythological creature.

But while the jackalope as we know it is a hoax, there is some truth behind the legend. In nature, there are cases of rabbits that grow horn-like tumors on their heads or bodies. These tumors are caused by a virus called Shope papillomavirus, which was discovered by a scientist named Richard Shope in 1933. The virus infects the skin cells of rabbits and makes them produce keratin, the same protein that forms hair and nails. The keratin forms hard growths that can look like horns or antlers.

Shope papillomavirus is not only interesting for its role in creating horned rabbits, but also for its implications for cancer research. Shope was one of the first scientists to prove that a virus could cause cancer in mammals, which was a revolutionary idea at the time. He also found that some rabbits could resist the virus and develop immunity against it. His work inspired other researchers to study how viruses can cause or prevent cancer in humans and animals.

The Tall Tales of the Jackalope

The jackalope has been featured in many stories and jokes that exaggerate its abilities and characteristics. Some of these tales include:

  • The jackalope can only be hunted during a full moon, when it comes out to mate. To catch one, you need a bottle of whiskey and a pair of scissors. You have to lure the jackalope with the whiskey, then cut off its antlers when it gets drunk.
  • The jackalope can imitate any sound it hears, including human speech. It likes to sing along with cowboys around campfires, especially songs by Roy Rogers or Gene Autry. It can also mimic the sound of guns or predators to scare away hunters or enemies.
  • The jackalope is very fast and agile. It can jump over fences and dodge bullets. It can also run on its hind legs and use its front paws as weapons. It can even kill a human with one kick.
  • The jackalope is very intelligent and cunning. It can solve puzzles and riddles. It can also trick humans into doing its bidding or falling into traps. It has a sense of humor and likes to play pranks on people.
  • The jackalope has magical powers and can grant wishes. It can also change its shape or size at will. It can become invisible or fly in the air.

The Official Recognition of the Jackalope

Despite being a mythical creature, the jackalope has received some official recognition from various authorities and institutions. Some examples are:

  • In 1965, former president Ronald Reagan received a mounted jackalope head as a gift from Wyoming governor Clifford Hansen. He displayed it in his home and later in his presidential library.
  • In 1985, the state of Wyoming issued a jackalope hunting license for anyone who wanted to pursue the creature. The license was valid only on June 31 (a nonexistent date) from midnight to 2 a.m., and required an IQ test and a $10 fee.
  • In 2005, the state of Wyoming trademarked the name “jackalope” for use on clothing, souvenirs, and other products.
  • In 2013, Douglas High School in Douglas, Wyoming adopted the jackal

So next time you hear about the jackalope, remember that it is not just a silly myth, but also a fascinating example of how nature and culture can interact. The jackalope may not be real, but it has a real story behind it.

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