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February 2011

February 2011 -- Rabbits



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    Sick-day Reading, or Sifting Out the Pearls
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Henning Ludvigsen


  • Rabbits and Hares


  • Fiction: Filling the Hat

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  • Rabbits and Hares
    by Jenny Heidewald

    Scampering, carrot-eating, little critters, rabbits and hares are found throughout the world in a variety of habitats, from the arctic to the marshlands. This seemingly diminutive animal has become an icon of sorts, threading through many different cultures. An important piece of the food chain, these animals could be considered the plankton of the land.

    "A Young Hare", by Albrecht Durer -1471 to 1528

    The Rabbit in Culture

    Rabbits abound throughout human culture, modern and ancient. There is the Easter rabbit, the Chinese zodiac sign of the rabbit, the Energizer bunny, the cereal Trix bunny, the animated Bugs Bunny, Beatrix Potter's charming Peter Rabbit, Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland"'s White Rabbit, and March Hare, the phrase "Mad as a March Hare" (which refers to the wild leaping and boxing of the bucks during breeding season in March),"The Velveteen Rabbit" by Margery Williams, "Watership Down" by Richard Adams, Disney's character Thumper from "Bambi", the African American tales of B'rer Rabbit, the animated film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (with the famously sexy Jessica Rabbit), the trickster rabbit from Native American to African tales, the story of the tortoise and the hare, in Monty Python's "Holy Grail" as the famous Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, the sexy Playboy Bunny, the rabbit's foot for luck, the rabbit in the moon, as a witch's familiar, bunny slippers, the American name for a Volkswagen car.... the list goes on.

    The hare and rabbit have had many contrary connotations throughout history: courageous and timid, smart and foolish, promiscuous and virginal, a symbol of luck or considered a harbinger of bad luck. Some Middle Age European cultures, namely Celtic and Viking, thought that the rabbit, with the way it lives underground in burrows, was connected with the underworld or otherworld, and could carry messages to and from the dead and faeries. Vikings were terrified of the simple rabbit. With the belief that an old wise woman could turn herself into a hare, the Celts had a taboo against eating the animals; it might be someone's grandmother, a witch, or one of the fae (faeries), in disguise.

    The rabbit, with its one-month gestation and nocturnal activities, has been associated with the moon since ancient times. Thus, cultures connected the rabbit with the moon, and, in turn, to their moon goddess. Many say that you can see a rabbit in the features of the moon, much like the man in the moon, or the lady in the moon. There are several positions that the rabbit image can take on the face of the moon; the Chinese, for example, purport that the rabbit is using a mortar and pestle to grind rice.

    The rabbit or hare, along with the egg, was associated with the Teutonic moon goddess Ostara, and the Anglo-Saxon moon goddess, Eostre. She represented light, new life, and there was a festival celebrated each spring equinox for her, now known as Easter. The rabbit and the egg are two symbols of fertility, so it is no wonder that the two have combined to equal the modern Easter bunny tradition. One version of why the Easter bunny is connected to eggs is that Ostara turned a pet bird of hers into a rabbit for her children; this rabbit kept the ability to lay eggs. The name Eostre is related to the word "estrus", further connecting women's cycles with the moon and the rabbit.

    In Norse mythology, Freya, the goddess of love and reproduction, was said to have hare attendants.

    The Greeks and Romans connected the rabbit to Selene and Artemis/Diana, the moon goddess, a protector of vulnerable animals, as well as their love goddess, Aphrodite/Venus, for its fertility. Aphrodite's son, Euros (Cupid) was often depicted carrying a hare.

    The ancient Egyptians had a goddess called Wenet, which means "the swift one". Represented with the head of a hare, as a hare, or with a hare, she was the guardian of the underworld. In Egypt the hare was called un , which means "open", or the opener", because of how the young were born with their eyes open. Un also meant "period", which might also tie in the moon as well as women's cycles.

    The Mayan moon goddess, her name not mentioned with the Mayan depictions of her, is illustrated as a young woman with a rabbit and the crescent moon; she is the goddess of marriage, childbirth, and rebirth.

    Features and Habits

    Rabbits belong to the order Lagomorphia, which is divided into two families. These families are Leporidae, which includes rabbits and hares, and Ochotonidae, which only includes pikas (a small, hamster-like creature). They range from one to eleven pounds, and twelve to twenty four inches long. As herbivores, they eat bark, grass, and vegetables. The fondness for vegetables, and other green growing things, has earned them their reputation as a pest to gardeners and farmers; a rabbit or hare can cause massive damage to crops.

    There are some differences between rabbits and hares, though the confusion of calling some hares rabbits, such as the jackrabbit, or the snowshoe rabbit, doesn't help matters. Hares are larger than rabbits, with larger ears, and are more muscular; also, most hares have black tipped ears. With longer legs, the hare is built for sustained running, and can leap farther than a rabbit; generally fifteen to twenty feet compared to the eight or so feet of a rabbit. In flight, both species have a tendency to change direction suddenly, to throw off their pursuer. Rabbits tend to be social animals, living together in burrows, or warrens (an interconnected city of burrows). The hare is more of a loner, living under brush rather than building a nest or living in a burrow.

    Female rabbits are called does, males are bucks, and the young are kittens, or kits. Hares are the same in respect to the males and females, but the young of the hare are called leverets. The other difference between the rabbit and hare is that kits are born naked, deaf and blind, while leverets are born with fur, eyes open, ready to run and hop within a few hours of birth.

    The gestation of a rabbit is about a month long, and the doe gives birth to up to six kittens. The rabbit may seem like an uncaring parent, as she does not stay with the kits for long periods, visiting them only a couple times a night to feed them. The kits have no scent, unlike the doe, so, in staying away, she is protecting her babies from predators who may catch scent of the mother. At a week old the kits start growing fur, two weeks in the fur covers their entire body and they can see and hear well. The kits are weaned three to four weeks after birth.

    Certain kinds of rabbits can have as many as eight litters of kittens a year, and, because rabbits are mature in four months, some of the females that a doe gives birth to in the spring will be having their own litters before the summers end. With so many rabbits being born, you would think that we would be overrun by bunnies, and indeed in certain places, like Australia, where the rabbit has no natural predator, the population has exploded and cause many problems. With that being said, one must keep in mind that only about one in ten rabbits survive their first year.

    The rabbit has a complicated digestive system; on the first trip through the digestive system, their food is divided into two parts. The indigestible fibers go directly to the colon where water is removed and the waste expelled. The digestible half ends up in an organ called the cecum. This organ is larger than the rabbit's stomach, and bacteria there ferment the food into vitamins, proteins and fatty acids. The soft products are called cecotropes. This unique process, called coprophagy, allows the rabbit to obtain the most nutrition from the food it eats.

    The teeth of rabbits continually grow, approximately five inches a year, so rabbits need to gnaw on twigs and bark to keep their teeth at a healthy length. A rabbit's ears double as a way to get rid of excess heat, as the rabbit does not sweat or pant. The foot of a rabbit is covered with fur, so there are no visible footpads, as you would see, say, in a cat.

    Certain hares molt to white during the winter season, to blend with the snow. These include the white-tailed jackrabbit, the Japanese hare, the arctic hare, and the snowshoe rabbit (hare). In addition to the fur change, the snowshoe rabbit has feet specially adapted to run over fluffy snow, with toes spread wider, and more fur between their toes. Rabbits stay the same color year round.

    Drawing the Rabbit and the Hare

    I am using reference consisting of pictures of a generic wild rabbit, and a black tailed jackrabbit.

    Step one

    First, I start with circular shapes to denote the form and mass of the animal. An oval for the head, circles for the front and hindquarters, an arched line for the back. It helps to think of the animals as spring loaded, and add the appropriate arch to the sitting rabbit/hare. The hare has a longer skull and ears, as well as bigger back feet.

    Step Two

    I adjust proportions, and add in more details, such as fur. The eyes of both animals have a circular pupil. The jackrabbit has a golden iris, as well as a white ring of fur around its eyes. The ears look wide and spoon-like from the side, and skinny from the front and back. Different species of rabbits and hares have different sizes of ears. In both, the nose looks like a v due to a flap of skin that normally covers the nostrils. A hare's nose is bigger, and protrudes more.

    In Closing

    The rabbit and hare might simply seem like cute little fuzzies, but they have shaped, and been shaped by humanity. The roots of centuries of mythology and beliefs regarding this animal run deep in humankind, molding traditions and festivals we celebrate today.

    Acknowledgement: A big thank you again to my wonderful husband and editor,
    Alexander D. Mitchell IV. I am finally learning how to use the ";" . :)


    Encyclopedia Britannica

    in the moon

    list of Wild Rabbits and Hares Worldwide

    Symbolism of Rabbits and Hares, by Teri Windling

    Rabbits Tell, A Natural and Cultural History of a Misunderstood Creature" by
    Susan E. Davis and Margo Demello

    Drawing Wildlife, by J.C.

    Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
    to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.

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