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The jackalope is a mythical animal of North American folklore (a so-called "fearsome critter") described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns or deer antlers and sometimes a pheasant's tail (and often hind legs). The word "jackalope" is a portmanteau of "jackrabbit" and "antalope", an archaic spelling of "antelope". It is also known as Lepus temperamentalus.
It is possible that the tales of jackalopes were inspired by sightings of rabbits infected with the Shope papilloma virus, which causes the growth of horn- and antler-like tumors in various places on the rabbit's head and body. This can occur in cottontail rabbits under natural conditions and in domestic rabbits under experimental conditions. Systemic regression of warts occurs in a variable proportion of rabbits as a consequence of a specific cell-mediated immune response. Persistent warts may progress into invasive carcinomas. Progression into carcinomas is observed in approximately 25% of cottontail rabbits and in up to 75% of domestic rabbits with persistent warts. However, the concept of an animal hybrid occurs in many cultures, for example as the griffin and the chimera. Indeed, the term chimera has become the categorical term for such composites within the English language.
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The jackalope has bred the rise of many outlandish (and largely tongue-in-cheek) claims as to the creature's habits. For example, it is said to be a hybrid of the pygmy-deer and a species of "killer rabbit". Reportedly, jackalopes are extremely shy unless approached. Legend also has it that female jackalopes can be milked as they sleep belly up and that the milk can be used for a variety of medicinal purposes. It has also been said that the jackalope can convincingly imitate any sound, including the human voice. It uses this ability to elude pursuers, chiefly by using phrases such as "There he goes! That way!" During days of the Old West, when cowboys gathered by the campfires singing at night, jackalopes could often be heard mimicking their voices. It is said that a jackalope may be caught by putting a flask of whiskey out at night. The jackalope will drink its fill of whiskey and its intoxication will make it easier to hunt. In some parts of the United States it is said that jackalope meat has a taste similar to lobster. However, legend has it that they are dangerous if approached. It has also been said that jackalopes will only breed during electrical storms including hail, explaining its rarity.
The Jackalope was first encountered by John Colter, one of the first white men to enter what would one day be the State of Wyoming. The first Jackolope spotting was said to be in Douglas, Wyoming, according to legend, in 1829. In this town, due to the discovery, there is a statue of the Jackolope, and they celebrate Jackalope Day every year. Jackalopes are legendary in the U.S. – attributed by the New York Times to a 1932 hunting outing involving Douglas Herrick (1920–2003) of Douglas, Wyoming, and thus the town was named the "Home of the Jackalope" by the state of Wyoming in 1985. The state of Wyoming trademarked the name in 1965. According to the Douglas Chamber of Commerce, a 1930s hunting trip for jackrabbits led to the idea of a Jackalope. Herrick and his brother had studied taxidermy by mail order as teenagers. When the brothers returned from a hunting trip, Herrick tossed a jackrabbit carcass into the taxidermy store, where it came to rest beside a pair of deer antlers. The accidental combination of animal forms sparked Douglas Herrick's idea for a jackalope. The first jackalope the brothers put together was sold for $10 to Roy Ball, who displayed it in Douglas' La Bonte Hotel. The mounted head was stolen in 1977. The Douglas Chamber of Commerce has issued thousands of Jackalope Hunting Licenses to tourists. The tags are good for hunting only during official Jackalope season, which occurs for only one day: June 31 (a nonexistent date as June has 30 days), from midnight to 2 AM. The hunter may not have an IQ greater than 72. In 2005, the House of the Wyoming state legislature passed a bill to declare the jackalope the "official mythological creature" of Wyoming, by a vote of 45-12 and referred it to the state Senate, where the bill was indefinitely postponed on March 2, 2005.
More mythologic references can be found in the Huichol legends of the deer and the horned rabbit. The Huichol oral tradition has passed down tales of the sharing of horns between the two animals. This folklore may be due to the papilloma viral infection of the Western United States and Mexico from the 1880s - 1930's. The rabbit and deer have also been paired up as far back as the Mesoamerican period of the Aztecs as twins, brothers, even the sun and moon.
Similar creatures have been recognized for centuries in alpine regions of Europe (Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland), including the following: Wolpertinger (Bayern, Germany), Blutschink (Tirol, Austria), Dahu (Switzerland, France), Dilldapp (some specific regions), Elwetritsch (Pfalz, Germany), Hanghuhn (Thüringen, Germany), and Rasselbock (Thüringen and Sachsen, Germany).
Jackalope legends are sometimes used by locals to play tricks on tourists. This joke was employed by Ronald Reagan to reporters in 1980 during a tour of his Californian ranch, Rancho del Cielo, where he had a rabbit head with antlers mounted on his wall. Reagan liked to claim that he had caught the "jackalope" himself. Reagan was given a rabbit head with antlers by South Dakotan senator James Abdnor in 1986.
Since Herrick and his brother began selling manipulated taxidermy heads in the 1930s, such trophies can be found in many bars and homes across the United States. Herrick's postcards of the jackalope also increased the myth's popularity.
"Tiny the Jackalope" was a recurring character in a series of sketches on the American TV show America's Funniest People (1990-1994), where he would play pranks on people.
Jackalope have also appeared in video games. In Red Dead Redemption, you can hunt and skin jackalope for both profit and as an ingame challenge. In Redneck Rampage, jackalope are an aggressive enemy encountered early on in the game.
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