EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
The alleged offspring of a buck rabbit and a cat is known as a cabbit, a creature with a long and contentious history. Many people consider such hybrids to be impossible, but it’s not as if evidence of their existence were lacking. For example, the following video shows an animal in which the front half of the body looks like that of a cat, the rear half, like a rabbit’s. It also moves around like a rabbit, not a cat. In short, it hops. Take a look and see what you think:
So perhaps it’s not quite so easy, as some people imagine, to “tell a cat from a cony.”
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):
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
|A frontal view of the same ostensible cabbit shown at the top of this page.|
Thus, it seems that participants on both sides of this unending debate view their opponents as ignorant, and perhaps even intentionally dishonest. Originally, I myself dismissed the idea that such a distant hybrid might be possible. However, after seeing many of the videos on Youtube showing what appear to be living cabbits (quite a few of which can be seen here), I now wonder. I’d like to see some of these animals genetically tested, but no one with the proper laboratory facilities has chosen to do so.
It is certainly true, however, that buck rabbits have many times been observed to mount and mate with female cats. This fact is amply documented on YouTube, for example, in this video:
And numerous videos showing ostensible cabbits have been collected on a separate page of this website. 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.
It’s significant that cats have been known to suckle and raise rabbits. 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 (this phenomenon is known as imprinting). The result is often hybridization. The following video documents a case of a cat nursing rabbits:
Baby bunnies nursed in this way would no doubt be imprinted on cats when they reached maturity and would therefore attempt to mate with cats, a sine qua non of cabbit production (if cabbits can be produced at all!)
In the case of Manx cats, if they are of hybrid origin (see green section on the origin of the Manx 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 on the cabbit videos 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.
From the Lubbock Evening Journal - Lubbock, Texas - May 27 1953:
CABBIT—Mrs. Norm Weiler of St. Petersburg, Fla., has a new pet, but she’s not sure what it is. The animal has the head and shoulders of a cat, and the body of a rabbit, while its voice is half growl, half meow. Mrs. Weiler, who adopted the creature when it wandered into her yard recently, calls her new pet “Cabbit.” She says it hates fish, loves cabbage and roast veal.
(This brief article was accompanied by the usual photo of a cabbit.)
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.
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 the cabbit videos page, where one is seen eating a carrot and an avocado.)
A second argument is that the gestation 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 one, as in the case of cat and rabbit. 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.
— by Chris MillarBuck rabbit cat
Rabbit bucks cat
Buck rogers cat
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 hybrids, 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 fertile 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 cat-rabbit 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 (Deforest and Basrur 1979). The last-cited authors state that in Manx cats such serious disorders as "spina bifida, urinary and faecal incontinence and locomotor disturbances of the pelvic limbs" are all associated with the tailless condition. But another explanation of this fact might be that tailless Manxes represent F₁ cat-rabbit 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).
And now, you might want to take a look at some of the many cabbit videos collected on this website >> Alternatively, you might want to read some of the quoted reports about cabbits listed towards the bottom of this page.
The following is a list of reported cat crosses. Some of these crosses are much better documented than others (as indicated by the reliability arrow). Indeed, some might seem completely impossible. But all have been reported at least once. The links below are to separate articles. Additional crosses, not listed here, are covered on the cat hybrids page.
An animal appeared in Beaufort, and two others at Columbia, S. C., which were asserted by whole neighbourhoods to be hybrids between the common cat and the gray rabbit, (Lepus Sylvaticus). Some of these accounts found their way into the public prints of America, and we perceive were republished in London. The hybrids were represented as having the fur of the rabbit with its short tail and long hind legs, sitting on its tarsus, and leaping in the manner of the hare. They were moreover said to be so wild they seldom came to the house; after some correspondence and frequent disappointments, one of the animals was sent to us from Beaufort. The teeth soon told the story: it was a true cat, born, however, with a short tail, with long hind legs, and claws that could scarcely be called retractile. It may prove a second edition of the Isle of Man cat. If, however, these strange animals should be excluded from an intercourse with other cats we are inclined to believe that the variety might be perpetuated, and it would be regarded, as it is now considered by many, a feline-lepine hybrid.
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:
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.”
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’s 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.
The following news story about a cabbit 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.
We have seen and heard of different kinds of mixed breeds and grafted things, but never before of a cat and rabbit. Mr. J. W. Hodge, driver of a transfer auto in Newberry, has shown us a living curiosity in the shape of half rabbit and half cat, which is a freak of nature wrong.
The "thing" came from Spartanburg, and if you don’t believe it is what we say it is (it is hard to believe off hand) get Mr. Hodge to show it to you. Being so unusual it is an interesting object to look at.
The rabbit cat or cat rabbit has puzzled us since seeing it, and you don’t know what to call it—but call it by any other name and it is not as sweet as a rose, although some girl wanting it for a pet might call it cute. It is a strange looking animal, form its "bunny cotton-tail" and rabbit like hind legs to its cat like fore part and head. [The end of this article, which is composed of the author’s lengthy scientific speculations, is here omitted.]
W. H. Kisinger of Truemans, Pa., is the owner of a most peculiar animal. It was born of a cat mother, but has the body, legs and tail of a rabbit, with the head of a cat. It runs like a rabbit, by jumping up and kicking with its hind feet. It has cat claws on its hind feet, but has both rabbit and cat claws on its front feet. She has had three litters of kittens, but none resembling her. She is sitting up most of the time, and stands up and walks around, when looking for anything that alarms her. She catches mice, frogs and bats. When necessary she can jump six feet in the air and catch a bat with her mouth.
The boys at the J. N. Miller store have a great curiosity in the way of an animal that is half cat and half rabbit. It has a cat head and fore legs, but from the shoulders back it is rabbit.
A dispatch from Tamaqua, Pa., says: Richard Miller of Hauto has a curiosity in the shape of an animal that is half cat and half rabbit. The front portion of the creature, with the exception of its red eyes, is thta of a cat, while the rear half is that of a rabbit. One half of the animal’s body is covered with the whit hair of a cat, while the remainder of its body is covered with the reddish brown fur of a rabbit, ending in a short, bushy tail. It moves about with half run and half hop, and is very tame. It lives on vegetables and mik, and has no use for meat. It is about one-half the size of a full grown cat.
The authorities of the Iowa State College have had put to them a hard question by a farmer near Lake Mills, who has captured a strange animal which he wishes the college scientists to name. The animal looks like half cat and half rabbit. The head and shoulders exactly resemble a cat but it has the long hind legs and short cotton tail of a jackrabbit and in traveling it takes the gait of a rabbit. The animal eats meat and drinks milk and also loves vegetables and roots and corn. The farmer, William McLeun, captured the animal as it was running wild.
Some of the extremely old residents at Sayville, L. I., say it is a skoodum, which appears every seventeen years in the dark of the moon, after a hard winter, but Walter Kessings says it’s a half cat, half rabbit. Mr. Kessing is a farmer and a man of repute. He went into the woods with friend from the city with the intention of getting material for a rabbit potpie.
There was a rustle in the underbrush, and an animal hopped out and darted for the road. There it halted, and, to the intense astonishment of Kessing and his friend, set up an able bodied yowl, the like of which is heard only at an Egyptian concert on a city back fence.
“Well, by gum!” exclaimed the farmer, “It lopes like a rabbit, it’s got the cottontail of a rabbit, but by jiminety! it talks like a tomcat!” Dropping his gun, Kessing leaped forward and caught the strange and has it on exhibition. It is a sure enough half cat half rabbit, with sharp claws in the forefeet and the stumpy toes of the hare.
I. L. Harader, whose reputation for truth and veracity has never been blemished, reports an interesting study in nature at his home on the west side of town. A few days ago an old cat drifted into his possession from the adjacent brushy lands that lie to the south of his orchard, bringing with her a family of four kittens. About this there is nothing strange, but when it is asserted that these kittens are half rabbit half cat, the fore-quarters being that of the kitten while the hind-quarters is that of a rabbit, that they have the bunny cotton tail of the rabbit, and jump instead of walk; our fusion friends will receive a great shock in the fear that the cat-rabbit trust will destroy the value of the jack-rabbit as a substitute for beefsteak in the event of a democratic administration of national affairs. But seriously, there is no joke about the strange family at Elder Harader’s. The mongrels are worth seeing.
Nature cuts many queer capers but no more strange example of her oddities can be seen in this section than a pet which is owned by a barroom keeper in Lambertville, N. J., says an exchange. The animal is half cat and half rabbit and has some of the habits and nature of both animals, while its anatomy consists of a peculiar commingling of each.
The freak from its head to the middle of its body looks like an ordinary kitten, the head and front paws being perfectly formed. The hindquarters of the animal are those of a rabbit, with a typical "cotton tail." The front feet are armed with sharp, curling claws, while the hind feet are equipped with long, straight claws for use in running. The fur is white, gray, black and yellow, in spots, and in quality is in places soft, in others harsh.
To see it run one would think it a rabbit, except for its short ears. When not in motion it squats on its hind legs just as a rabbit does and if a piece of cabbage or apple be given it it will take it in its front paws and nibble it contentedly. This strange animal, if disturbed or maddened evinces at times all the nature of a cat, while again it will run away and hide behind any object of shelter. It is now about three months old.
There is a monstrosity at the stables of Col. Crit Davis that ought to be sent to the Columbian Exposition. We are quite well acquainted with the old time mule, a cross between the horse and the donkey; we have seen a cross between the Guinea-fowl and chicken, but the cat-rabbit or rabbit-cat is a curiosity never seen or hear do in this locality, until Mr. W. Shy “raise” this one. In the language of our friend G., it is “’alf and ’alf.” The fore part, head, fore legs and chest is that of a well-developed cat, while the other parts are that of a rabbit, even to the little white “molly cotton” tail. The hair of the cat part is like that of a cat and the rest like that of a rabbit, and what is stranger still, is that one part crawls while the other part hops, and by the conflicting movements locomotion is to a great extent frustrated. It eats both meat and bread as well as grass but catches no mice or rats. If anyone doubts this strange story he can go out to the stables and there see for himself.
West Oakland, California, has produced a nondescript, which is apparently a combination of cat and rabbit. The forelegs are those of a rabbit; it has a rabbit’s tail, conspicuous for its brevity and bushiness; it squats down like a rabbit, jumps like a rabbit, jumps like a rabbit, but mews like a cat. It is a black and white color, and very playful, and is inclined to scratch. The half cat and half rabbit is three months old. The mother of this ill-behaved little cross-grained animal is of the regular feline species.
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 the cabbit videos 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).
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