You can go your whole life without asking the really important questions. For example, I’ve gone almost five decades without ever considering the species of Bugs Bunny.
I know what you’re thinking: his name is Bugs Bunny, so he must be a rabbit. And yet, most of the cartoons have titles like “Hare Brush” and “Fallin’ Hare” and “Bill of Hare.” In fact, the situation is far from clear.
Before we get into this, I should tell you a little bit about rabbits and hares. Despite the fact that they look quite similar, they are, in fact, different genera. Rabbits, and I always kind of knew this because you just can’t trust rabbits, are 8 different genera. Hares are just one. But whereas rabbits have only 44 chromosomes, hares have 48. So they really are fundamentally different.
Part of the problem is that many types of hare are called jackrabbit. This reminds me of all the confusion about the dormouse. When I was younger (up to about 2 days ago), I wondered why the jackrabbits I see everywhere here in Northern California seemed so different than domesticated rabbits. It is because they are only distantly related.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between hares and rabbits is how they are born. Hares are born with hair (Ha!) and are fairly independent. Rabbits are born blind and hairless. Unfortunately, his does us no good in our search for the truth about Bugs Bunny, because no film survives from his early days. But all hope is not lost.
Because of the fragility of young rabbits, they are forced to live underground in burrows. This almost seems like a smoking gun:
I’m not sure that the hole they are in at the beginning is Bugs’. It may be Shorty’s. But we have seen that Bugs lives in a hole in many other episodes. This does suggest that Bugs is a rabbit. Unfortunately, it is about the only thing that does.
Bugs is gray, and hares tend to be grayish. Bugs has long ears, and hares have longer ears. Bugs is fast, and hares are very fast. Bugs is quick witted, and so are hares—they have to be given they live out in the open. But by far, the most compelling evidence that Bugs Bunny is a hare is that hares do not live in groups—they are loners.
The argument for Shorty is perhaps better. For one thing, he looks like a rabbit. And he doesn’t speak English like hares normally do.
In the end, I suppose we shouldn’t depend upon cartoons for our biology education. Bugs seems to be both a rabbit and a hare. But since I like hares a lot more than rabbits, I will consider him a hare.
Now all I have to do is get the scoop on that Trix “rabbit.”