Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The Alligator Bunny is the tiniest mammal in the world, growing to an adult length of barely two inches long. It's native habitat are the forests of the northern hemisphere and it makes its nest in the knot holes of large trees and in tiny burrows beneath exposed tree root systems. Alligator Bunnies have adapted successfully to the encroachment of civilization, and easily create makeshift homes in city trees, in drain pipes, abandoned chimneys, and in the exhaust vents of buildings. While on the surface this creature is nothing more than the world's tiniest marsupial, deeper observation reveals hidden depths of intelligence and behavior.
In a landmark 1997 study, biologists at the University of California at Santa Cruz inserted a camera into the knot hole of a tree and observed a family of Alligator Bunnies in their native habitat. They were amazed by what they saw. The Bunnies created a large nest that consisted of several families living together for protection and comfort. Female bunnies bore a litter of 7-10 babies, approximately 90% of which were, amazingly enough, eaten by the entire clan before they saw their second day. Those babies that survived were put through a rigorous physical training, forced to run in place for hours on end or jump through a tiny obstacle course to get food. Alligator Bunnies who died of old age were also eaten by the Clan.
The bunnies also had a primitive language with a five word vocabulary and, amazingly enough, an odd marsupial religion. Observing scientists were stunned when, at the tick of every 37th hour, the entire Bunny clan would coalesce around a twig in the center of the nest. Standing on their hind legs, gathered in a pattern of concentric circles around a twig approximately an inch in length, they would squeal in unison while twisting left and then right. Religious ritual? Exercise? Mating? Scientists are still mystified.
Alligator Bunnies are so small and move so quickly that sightings are virtually unheard of. And since they are cannabalistic, bodies are rarely found. Even the 1997 study was an accident, originally designed to study insect life.
In the arts, Alligator Bunnies rarely appear. They're fairly ugly creatures, and nowhere near as distinctive as the Kangaroo or the Koala Bear. Warner Brothers briefly experimented with a Looney Tunes character called Cal Bunny in the early 30's, but quickly dropped him as Bugs became popular. The cartoons were never even shown and now languish in a vault somewhere. There was a brief Alligator Bunny craze in the children's literature of the late 1950's, but most of those books are long forgotten.