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Wolpertingers and Skvaders

Not to be outdone by America's Jackalope, both Germany and Sweden have their own rabbit concoctions: the Wolpertinger and the Skvader.  In fact, both creatures have much longer histories.  Sweden's Skvader originated in Hakan Dahlmark's tall hunting tale over what was probably a very boozy dinner.  Dahlmark claimed that he had shot an animal in 1874 which had the legs of a hare and the back, wings, and tail of a female wood grouse.  The story must have become legendary as Dahlmark's housekeeper gave him a painting of his beast for his birthday several years later.  Dahlmark later donated the painting to his local museum in Norra Berget in Sundsvall.  The painting inspired the curator to ask a taxidermist named Rudolf Granberg to construct the beast, which has been on display since 1918.

The Wolpertinger is commonly sighted in the alpine forests of Bavaria in Germany, and stuffed Wolpertingers are frequently sold as souvenirs to tourists.  With both horns and wings, the Wolpertinger combines the best of jackalopes and skvaders.






The jackalope was born in the 1930s when two teenage brothers, Douglas and Ralph Herrick, returned home from a successful hunt and tossed a dead rabbit next to a pair of antlers: the accidental pairing immediately sparked Douglas' creative imagination. The brothers had studied taxidermy by mail order, and Douglas set to work to create his legend: a cross between a pronghorn antelope and a jackrabbit.

The jackalope has since become a totem of the Old West and American tourist kitsch, and Douglas, Wyoming - Herrick brothers' hometown - has become a shrine of the elusive creature. An eight foot statue of jackalope stands in the Jackalope Square in the center of Douglas and a 13-foot jackalope cutout was erected on a local hillside. The Douglas Chamber of Commerce has issued thousands of jackalope hunting licenses despite regulations stipulating that hunting can only occur on June 31st between midnight and hunter must have an IQ lower than 72.

While the jackalope has a solid place in American cultural history, the horned hare (Lepus cornutus in Latin) has a much longer history in European natural history. The earliest reference to the horned hare dates back to the early sixteenth century, and the first depiction is perhaps the illustraion in Joris Hoefnagel's Animalia Qvadrvpedia et Reptilia from the late 1570's.

image: from the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC. See more details

Other early examples of the Lepus cornutus include an image in 1606 edition of Conrad Gesner's Thierbuch (a German version of the first book his Historia Animalium by Konrad Forer, first published in 1563) and P. Gaspar Schott's Physica Curiosa published in 1667, the frontspiece of which includes a tiny horned hair in the corner.
image: Frontispiece of P. Gasparis Schott's Physica Curiosa, Sive Mirabilia Naturae et Artis Libris, 1667


The fantastic images in Physica Curiosa include such prodigies and marvels as centaurs, winged men, and a rooster with a serpent's tail, which might lead modern readers to believe that the horned hare is just another product of a naturalist's fertile imaginations or gullibility. However the horned hare is more than a tall tale.

The growth of tumors in the shape of horns or antlers is a common rabbit disease called papillomatosis caused by an agent called the Shope papillomavirus, a similar virus which causes human warts. The disease is most common in the Midwest and Great Plains states in the United States of America, where - some speculate - the disease perhaps originated and spread back to Europe with the first explorers, which may explain why Lepus cornutus is absent in natural history texts before the sixteenth century. Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas has a remarkable taxidermied example of a rabbit severely affected by papillomatosis, pictured below. The image was taken from Chuck Holliday's excellent website on jackalope mythology and the disease which perhaps gave rise to the myth of the horned hare [read more +]