“Hallo, Rabbit,” he said, “is that you?”
“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and see what happens.”
~ A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
A snippet from my volunteer work on the ‘Dedicated Naturalist’ Project, helping to decipher and digitise, record and publicise the life’s work of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gillham.
From Mary’s 1935 Form IIa Biology exercise book:
The rabbit is covered with a soft greyish coloured fur. The teats or milk glands of the mother sometimes range over the whole of the ventral side of the body. Rabbits have flat feet with fur on the underneath. Their claws cannot be drawn in as can those of a cat, and so if it wasn’t for the fact that they usually run on grass they would make a noise when running. As it is easy prey for other animals it has large ears so that it can hear the slightest sound. The rabbit has a prominent white tail, so that when one runs away the others may see it and know there is danger at hand, then they can make good their escape. The three most formidable enemies of the rabbit are the stoat, weasel and fox. Sometimes when the rabbit sees any of these it is so overcome with fright that it seems paralysed and cannot move while its attacker comes up and kills it. The rabbit has three eyelids instead of the usual two, it also has sensitive whiskers like those of a cat growing from the sides of its face. The ventral side is a much lighter grey that the dorsal side. Rabbits are very common in England and in almost any field you go into you can see either the rabbits or their burrows.
My rabbits were photographed this week at Forest Farm Nature Reserve, where they are certainly very common!
Although Easter is a time when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, its origins can be traced back to much earlier, pagan times. Some sources say the name Easter comes from Ishtar (pronounced ‘Easter’), the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of sex and fertility. Given the similarity of the names, as well as the bunny’s propensity for frequent reproduction, the association of bunnies with Ishtar-Easter would seem to make perfect sense.
However, other sources say there is no actual evidence that Ishtar is associated with the present-day Easter celebrations and cite the Venerable Bede as their source when explaining that the name comes from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring. Springtime festivities traditionally celebrate rebirth and fertility, so the Easter bunnies fit right in with that explanation.
It seems the modern day Easter bunny started life amongst German Lutherans (the earliest known written record is dated 1682), where his role was a little like that of Santa Claus – if a child had been good, they would receive gifts from an Easter bunny carrying a basketful of coloured eggs, and sometimes sweets and toys. If you’ve been good boys and girls, perhaps the bunny will bring you a gift as well.