You may have met someone who swears he caught a jackalope, or maybe you’ve seen one on a barroom wall. With the body of a rabbit and antlers like a deer’s, they are surely one of the world’s strangest animals.
We’ve wondered whether jackalopes are something we should look out for in the great outdoors or if they’re completely made up. Is it really possible that jackalopes exist in the wild, or are they some weird, elaborate joke?
Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. We’re getting to the real story behind this mysterious, funny-looking creature.
Let’s dig in!
What Does a Jackalope Look Like?
From what we’ve seen of them, a jackalope looks like a regular cottontail rabbit but with one strange exception.
A large set of antlers protrudes high above its ears, giving it an oddly menacing presence. It kind of looks like a cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope – that must be how it got its name.
Are Jackalopes Real?
It turns out that stories and depictions of horned rabbits go back hundreds of years in various cultures. Often, however, they are single horns, like you’d associate with a unicorn, rather than a broader set of antlers. Biologists believe some of these historical sightings could be the result of animals suffering from a medical condition.
The Shope Papillomavirus, similar to the HPV in humans, causes bulging tumors that can resemble horns. To us, though, this explanation isn’t very satisfying. The antlers we’ve seen on mounted jackalopes look like the healthy racks you’d see on a prized deer. Let’s look into this jackalope thing a little more before we chalk it up to science.
According to a popular legend, a man named Roy Ball trapped one back in 1829. This was quite a feat because they were known to be feisty and aggressive little critters, even fearsome. They were difficult to capture because they’d thrash at your legs with those sharp antlers.
Others believed that jackalopes had the ability to mimic human voices. Cowboys out on the trail confirmed this with their accounts of jackalopes joining them in singing their campfire songs.
It’s often hard to pinpoint the origin of a legend. But this one lands squarely on the floor of a taxidermy shop in Douglas, Wyoming back in 1934. Two brothers who ran the business, Ralph and Doug Herrick, had a sense of humor to go along with their taxidermy skills.
On a whim, they decided to mount two separate specimens, a rabbit and a set of deer antlers, together as one. They sold their whimsical but believably lifelike creation to a man in town who owned a hotel. (His name happened to be Roy Ball, the same as that legendary trapper.) He hung it proudly in his lobby, and that’s where the talk of jackalopes started.
Pro Tip: If jackalopes aren’t scary enough for you, what about a monster who is half goat, half man? Check out The Goatman’s Bridge in Texas.
Why Do People Think Jackalopes Exist?
Many people who think jackalopes are real may have seen the Herricks’ handiwork. After all, seeing is believing, right? After that first one, they subsequently produced over a thousand more of their oddball stuffed animals. A taxidermist in South Dakota, Frank English, started making them too and continued to do so for more than 30 years.
The stuffed jackalopes ended up traveling widely, well beyond the expected range of a typical rabbit or deer. English even sold them for a while to the Cabela’s outdoors megastores. Over the decades, the Wyoming-born fakery has made its way around the world.
Here in the U.S., especially out west, it’s not uncommon to spot a jackalope on the wall at a watering hole or eatery. For the uninitiated, they tend to prompt questions – and inspire more stories.
An 8-foot statue of a jackalope stands prominently in Douglas, Wyoming, and shops there offer an assortment of souvenirs. The town has an annual jackalope celebration in June. They also sell mock hunting licenses so you can try to bag your own real-live jackalope.
Elsewhere, the mythical mammal has also turned up in either name or image in band names and beer logos. In Texas, there was even a minor-league hockey team for a while called the Odessa Jackalopes.
Pro Tip: What dangerous animals should you actually be fearful of while camping? We uncovered Are Possums Actually Dangerous?
Were You In On the Joke?
Some mysterious creatures, such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, inspire legions to become true believers. Maybe that’s because there appears to be photographic evidence of them as living, breathing things. Jackalopes are so ridiculous looking that they couldn’t possibly be real. But maybe that’s what makes us want to believe in them even more.
We hate to break it to you, but the legend of the jackalope is a lighthearted hoax. It stems from two guys with some taxidermy skills wanting to have some fun. Perhaps the funniest thing is that the laughs keep coming more than 80 years later. The animal they created as a prank became a cultural icon of sorts and gave their hometown a claim to fame.
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