Fact or fiction?
EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS Google+ profile
Note: This disparate cross requires confirmation, but the videos on this page do suggest further investigation would be worthwhile.
The alleged offspring of a buck rabbit and a cat is known as a cabbit (see images and videos on this page), a creature with a long and contentious history.
Not surprisingly, many have rejected, or even ridiculed, claims that cabbits exist. Thus, the nineteenth-century naturalist Francis Trevelyan (“Frank”) Buckland, who believed all purported hybrids of this type to be “Manx cats with birth defects,” had the following to say (Buckland 1882, p. 33):
To Mr. [Abraham Dee] Bartlett [then Superintendent of the London Zoo], are brought sometimes supposed hybrids between a cat and a rabbit. Our friend says a cat with a short tail will not prove the argument. He wants a rabbit with a long tail.
On the other hand, there are many, often vehement claims that cabbits are real. For example, Sarah Hartwell, who wrote an article arguing that cabbits are impossible, quoted the following from an email she received from a cabbit proponent: “I just read your article on your web page and have to tell you that you are full of crap. Cabbits are real, I
have had them and bred them and they are abundant in Ontario. No one has become famous, as you say about some vets in your article. It isn't rocket science and no one will be getting a Nobel for it. They are an accepted species in Ontario. I have pictures and can describe anything you want to know about them. They have soft fur like the rabbit, look like a cat except they have the hind legs of the rabbit, they are silent, don't meow and they kind of hop/walk. It is possible for some species to cross-breed, it just isn't much thought of. You really should research before you go spouting off. What the hell are your qualifications anyways?? I and my parents before me have been registered breeders of the CKC [i.e., Canadian Kennel Club]. I can also tell you that I can tell when 2 animals are mating and when 8 weeks later babies are born and the only 2 “going at it” was the rabbit and the cat. They are not manx and you really should have a few certificates on your wall before you judge those of us who actually know what we are talking about.
Thus, it seems that participants on both sides of this unending debate view their opponents as ignorant, and perhaps even intentionally dishonest.
When Gametes Meet
— by Gene McCarthy
Two gametes meet and say hello.
Perchance their sum is apropos.
But in advance, you never know.
It is certainly true, however, that buck rabbits have many times been observed to mount and mate with female cats. And this fact is amply documented on YouTube, for example, in video #8 at right. And a total of ten videos of ostensible cabbits are included on this page. All show “cats” which appear to be similar to a rabbit in the posterior regions of their bodies, and which hop like rabbits. Manx cats with birth defects? Cat-rabbit hybrids? Such evidence suggests, at the very least, that this issue should be investigated further. If these animals are hybrids, it would be easy to verify the fact via analysis of their DNA, given that they would, presumably, be F₁ hybrids. Only later-generation backcross hybrids raise difficulties in connection with DNA evaluation.
A 17th-century cabbit:
In his History of the Royal Society of London, Thomas Birch (1754, p. 393), Secretary to the Society, states that in 1664, “Sir Robert Moray related that he had heard from Dr. Hinton of a copulation of a male rabbit and a female cat, which produced monsters whose foreparts were like a cat and the hinder parts like a rabbit, and that those monsters had reproduced more complicated monsters."
The half-and-half body plan indicated by Hinton for this hybrid is exactly the same as that seen in the various videos on this page. Sir Robert Moray (1609-1673) was one of the twelve founders, and the first president, of the Royal Society. Sir John Hinton (1603-1682) was physician to both Charles I and Charles II.
At about the same time, the celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren and his friend William Aubrey, also members of the Royal Society, reported seeing such a hybrid (see the minutes of the June 3, 1680 meeting of the Royal Society).
It’s significant that cats have been known to suckle and raise rabbits (see bottommost video at right). Animals adopted by a female not of their own kind tend, upon reaching sexual maturity, to choose to mate with animals of that kind instead of their own. The result is often hybridization.
In the case of Manx cats, if they are of hybrid origin (see green section below), the rabbit parent in question would be Oryctolagus cuniculus, the European rabbit, which is the only rabbit occurring on the Isle of Man. As to the various ostensible cabbits shown in the videos on this page, it is uncertain whether the European rabbit or some other type of rabbit might have been involved. Oryctolagus cuniculus, however, which is highly invasive, has been introduced into many different parts of the world, and numerous rabbit breeds, closely allied to the European rabbit, are widely popular as pets.
Arguments asserting that cabbits are impossible are of several sorts. One assertion is that, since rabbits and cats have different chromosome numbers (2n=44 and 2n=38, respectively), they cannot produce hybrids. This claim, however, is not consistent with the fact that well-documented hybrids are known from many other types of mammalian crosses where the parents differ even more with respect to chromosome number than do a cat and a rabbit. Numerous cases of this sort are documented on this website. A few examples, among many, are:
The chromosome counts of sheep and goats differ by exactly six, just as do cats and rabbits, but it is well known that they occasionally produce hybrids.
A Twitter follower’s question: “But do cabbits eat carrots or fish?”
My response: “Most enjoy a nice mouse and tuna casserole with plenty of lettuce and carrots, and perhaps a light, re-ingestible pellet topping.”
(More seriously, look at the end of the video at the top of this page, where one is seen eating a carrot and an avocado.)
A second argument is that the gestational period of a cat is a month longer than that of a rabbit (64 and 31 days, respectively), which is somehow supposed to make hybrids impossible. During the course of my research into hybrids, I have often met with this assertion. It is, in fact, an age-old claim, dating back at least as far as Pliny the Elder (1st century A.D.). But various counterexamples invalidate this line of argument. Two well established examples are the cama, the hybrid of a dromedary camel (gestation period = 13 months) and a llama (g.p. = 11 months), and the wolphin, the hybrid of a false killer whale (g.p. = 15.5 months) and a bottle-nosed dolphin (g.p. = 11.5 months). Both of these cases are documented on this website (here and here, respectively). In the latter case, the gestation periods of the two animals in question differ, by four months, and not merely two. The domestic pig has a gestation period of 115 days, whereas that of the babirusa averages 153 (150-157 days), a difference of 33 percent, about the same then as that between dolphins and false killer whales (34%). And yet, they produce hybrids. So it seems this claim about differences in gestation period lengths preventing hybridization is just an old wive's tale, repeated by scientists and non-scientists alike.
A third is that they are too “different genetically” to produce hybrids. But every hybrid cross involves parents that are genetically different and the exact amount of genetic difference that precludes a hybrid cross is unknown, as is the nature of such differences. (I say this as a Ph.D. in genetics who has spent years researching hybrids.)
A fourth is that they are too different in terms of their anatomy or in terms of evolutionary relationship to produce a hybrid. But the parents in a hybrid cross typically differ in anatomy, and it is not known just how different two animals can be in terms of their anatomy and still produce a hybrid. As to evolutionary relationship, in that case too, it is unknown how distantly related two hybridizing animals can be. (But perhaps the present case, that of cat × rabbit, gives us a clue?)
Finally, in the case of this specific cross some people point to the fact that Manx cats not only produce offspring, but are a recognized breed. Since hybrids are sterile, they say, the Manx cannot be a hybrid. Quod erat demonstrandum! However, this argument draws conclusions from false premises. Many, many hybrid crosses documented elsewhere on this website produce fertile, or at least partially fertile, offspring. And many, many domestic breeds are known to be the products of hybridization. So there really is no reason to conclude on such a basis that Manx cats cannot be hybrids.
Indeed, Manxes are not as fertile as ordinary cats. It is well-known that they produce a high percentage of inviable offspring, which is characteristic of hybrids. This high rate of inviability is attributed to the "Manx gene," I have not as yet found (and I challenge anyone else to find) any formal study characterizing this gene, or even mapping it to a particular chromosome.
It has, of course, been noted that mating a tailless Manx with another tailless Manx results in a higher rate of inviable offspring than does mating a tailless Manx with a tailed one. But another explanation of this fact might be that tailless Manxes represent F₁ hybrids and long-tailed Manxes represent backcrosses to pure cat. In many hybrid crosses mating F₁ hybrids with backcross hybrids increases the number of viable offspring (in comparison with F₁-F₁ matings).
An early account of the Manx cat’s origin:
Manx cats are said to come originally from the Isle of Man, which lies between Britain and Ireland in the Irish Sea. In his history of that island, An Historical and Statistical Account of the Isle of Mann (1845, vol. 1, pp. 21-22), Joseph Train (1779-1852) said he thought Manx cats, which on the island are called “rumpies” because of their rabbit-like rumps, were cat-rabbit hybrids:
My observations on the structure and habits of the specimen in my possession, leave little doubt in my mind of its being a mule, or cross between the female cat and the buck rabbit. In August, 1837, I procured a female rumpy kitten, direct from the Island. Both in its appearance and habits it differs much from the common house cat: the head is smaller in proportion, and the body is short; a fud or brush like that of a rabbit, about an inch in length, extending from the lower vertebra, is the only indication it has of a tail. The hind legs are considerably longer than those of the common cat, and, in comparison with the fore legs, bear a marked similarity in proportion to those of the rabbit. Like this animal too, when about to fight, it springs from the ground and strikes with its fore and hind feet at the same time. The common cat strikes only with its fore paws, standing on its hind legs. The rumpy discharges its urine in a standing posture, like a rabbit, and can be carried by the ears apparently without pain. Like every species of the feline, it is carnivorous and fond of fish, and is an implacable enemy to rats and mice. My little oddity was six months old before it saw a mouse, but when a dead one was exhibited, it instantly displayed all the characteristics of a practised mouser. It has never had any offspring, although the common cat propagates its species when about twelve months old. Indeed, on this subject, although I have made many inquiries, I have not been able to establish a single instance in which a female rumpy was known to produce young. My opinion, as to the origin of the rumpy, has been strengthened by a coincident circumstance connected with this district. A few years ago, John Cunningham, Esq., of Hensol, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, stocked a piece of waste land on his estate with rabbits, which multiplied rapidly. In the immediate neighourhood of this warren rumpy cats are now plentiful, although previously altogether unknown in the locality. Not a doubt seems to exist as to the nature of their origin.”
To these comments may be added the following quotation from The Book of the Cat (Frances Simpson, 1903, p. 245): “A lady friend of mine who was brought up in the Isle of Man has told me that she always understood that Manx cats came from a cross with a rabbit…”
The following news story appeared in The St. Maurice Valley Chronicle, on Jan. 20, 1938.
We are indebted this week to a charming lady secretary for the story of a natural phenomenon which, we venture to assert, may yet make the name of Three Rivers [Trois-Rivières, QC, Canada] and Cape Madeline resound throughout the world.
It seems that a lady resident of the cape has a cat which, not long ago, added to the feline population in a big way. Amongst the number of her progeny was one animal whose front section is reported to be catlike in every respect though its rear portion is pure rabbit.
Moreover, this strange animal does not miaouw like a real cat (though it purrs) and it has seven toes on each foot. It shows a fondness for hay as an article of diet and has a fuzzy rabbit-like tail which indicates that in this or preceding generations one of its ancestors contracted a mésalliance with an enterprising jackrabbit.
This column intends to pursue its investigations further. In the meanwhile we suggest that the animal should be called a “cabbit” with “buncat” as an alternative. It all sounds very intriguing and if we can get pictures and data we may yet be able to produce a local rival to the quints.
The following is a wire story that appeared in many American newspapers in Aug. 1947:
Animal is Cat or Rabbit; All Depends on the Line of Vision
West Palm Beach, Fla., Aug. 16 (AP)—Stewart Morgan has a cat—at least it’s a cat when viewed from the front, but take a look at from the rear, and it’s a rabbit.
Morgan says the animal, promptly named “Cabbit,” is jet black, has the head, shoulders and forelegs of a cat, but just below the shoulder joint the spinal column does a squads left and—presto—the cat becomes a rabbit. The hind legs are like those of a rabbit and operate kangeroo-fashion.
Even the fur, said Morgan, is only cat fur about halfway, and the rest of the body covered with fur like that of a rabbit.
The tail is nothing but a boneless tuft of black fur.
Neighbors suggested that the creature was nothing but a manx cat, but encyclopedias while acknowledging the similarity don't say a word about the hindquarters hopping around like a rabbit.
The “cabbit” has a normal feline appetite. He eats meat and drinks milk, but ignores such rabbit delicacies as lettuce and carrots.
The fact, he might pass off as a cat, if he'd stop the kangaroo-jumping with his back feet.
As for its ancestral origin—Morgan said he didn't know. It was just a stray, he explained.
An eighteenth-century cabbit:
John Morton, in his book The Natural History of Northamptonshire (1712), gave the following account of an alleged cat-rabbit hybrid: “That Two Brute Animals of different Species do sometimes join in Copulation and that a Mongrel or spurious Beast partaking of the Nature of both the Parents, is begot betwixt them, every body must own, who knows any thing of the Generation of the Mule; but then it is to be observed, that this happens only between Animals of Kinds near of Kin to each other, as, e. gr., the Horse and the Ass, between whom the Mule is engendered. For this Reason I suspected the Story rife in almost every bodies Mouth about Two or Three Years ago, that at the Cross-Keys Inn in Northhampton, they had a Creature in the Fore-part of it a Cat, in the Hinder-part a Rabbet, that came of a She Cat, which had coupled with a Buck-Rabbet at a neighbouring House. The Rabbet and Cat do indeed agree in this, that they both are multifidous [i.e., an obsolete word that meant having feet with multiple toes]; but in other Respects, especially in the Shape of the Head, in the Fashion and Number of their Teeth, in their Manner of Living and Temper, do so much differ, that ‘tis scarce to be imagined there should ever be any such Intermixture. But however, that I might satisfy my self more fully in the Matter, I went to view this so much talk‘d-of Monster, which to me after all appear‘d to be only a common Cat with a bobb‘d Tail, and somewhat more bushy than ordinary, and with blunter Claws! Things that may easily be accounted for. And it had the same way of squatting down upon its Tail, that Rabbets have; which no doubt it was taught. The Vulgar may still, if they please, believe that Relation; but I would not have it impose upon Persons of better understanding.” (Morton 1712, pp. 445-446.)
Domestic Cat × Rabbit - © Macroevolution.net
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
Video #1: An ostensible cabbit
Video #2: A second animal
Video#3: A second video of the animal shown in Video #2
Video #4: A third video of the same animal shown in videos #2 and #3
Video #5: A third ostensible cabbit
Video #6: A fourth ostensible cabbit. (Before you get a good look at this animal, the first two-thirds of the video, about a minute, is spent in searching for it.)
Video #7: Another case
Video #8: A buck rabbit mating with a cat
Video #9: A gatonejo in Puerto Rico
Video #10: A Salvadoran gatonejo
Video of a cat nursing baby rabbits
Cabbits - © Macroevolution.net