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North American Jackalope

“Home, home, on the range, where the deer and the jackalope play.”

That anthem of the American west that we are so familiar with is where the deer and the antelope play. What is not well known is that the original version was where the deer and the jackalope play.

The extremely secretive jackalope is perhaps the most elusive animal in the western United States, even more elusive than the Pacific Northwest tree octopus. Although scattered reports of jackalopes date back to at least the 1890s. According to On the Trail of the Jackalope by Michael P. Branch (2022), reports began to increase in the Douglas, Wyoming, area around 1930.

As the name implies, jackalopes resemble a jackrabbit with horns or perhaps antlers. Based on taxidermy mounts and limited reports, indications are that there are two species in the western U.S., the plains jackalope with horns like an antelope and the mountain jackalope which has branching antlers. The does, or females, lack antlers or horns.

Jackalopes are thought to weigh from 1-10 pounds, can run 50-60 mph or more, and only mate during lighting flashes. But due to their habitat in tall grass and shrubs along with camouflage coloration they are basically invisible. Furthermore, they kick up dust devils when they run, making any reliable sighting virtually impossible. Not only that, but they have recently evolved a call that imitates cell phone ringtones to distract any potential hunters or observers.

The dearth of information on the species brings into question whether jackalopes actually exist in the wild. However, the Jackalope Conspiracy website asserts that the jackalopes indeed do exist and are the subject of a massive government cover-up. They cite reports of a photograph of a jackalope necropsy conducted in Area 51. There is also fossil evidence of jackalopes. The Field Guide to the North American Jackalope by Andy Robbins (2021) notes that the fossil record contains evidence of a woolly jackalope (Cornutus cardiganius) a species of the Pleistocene steppe. Little is known of this extinct species, but preliminary studies indicate that their hair could have made good sweaters.

But seriously, the most frequently sighted jackalope is Jackalopus taxidermus. Their preferred habitat is bars and taverns. Biologists theorize they are drawn, using their excellent hearing, to the jackalope stories, which are most frequently heard in this specialized ecosystem. They maintain a very still posture on a shelf or counter. Then, after the people have left, they come down and subsist on dropped popcorn, peanuts, and pretzels.

Further Reading on Jackalope

  • Branch, Michal P., 2022. On the Trail of Jackalopes - How aLegend Captured the World’s Imagination and Helped us Cure Cancer. Pegasus Books, New York, and London. 254 pages.
  • Robbins, Andy. 2021. Field Guide to the North American Jackakope. Caput Mortiuum Books, Ranchester, Wyoming. 48 pages.
  • Jemison, Micaela. 2020. The World’s Scariest Rabbit Lurks Within the Smithsonian’s Collection. Smithsonian, June 17, 2020. https://www.si.edu/stories/worlds-scariest-rabbit
  • Branch, Michael P. 2022. The Legend of the Horned Rabbit of the West. High Country News, February 24, 2022. https://www.hcn.org/articles/books-the-legend-of-the-horned-rabbit-of-the-west
Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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