Friday 20 April 2018

Origins of the Easter Bunny, or eggs, is unclear

A young Rabbit, an Easter Bunny.
A young Rabbit, an Easter Bunny.

Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

The origin in folklore of the Easter Bunny bringing Easter eggs for children is not at all clear. To add to the confusion, some authorities claim that the Easter Bunny is a hare rather than a rabbit.

The association of Easter with hares or rabbits and eggs appears to be very old and its origins are, consequently, greatly obscured by the mists of time and are clouded in mystery.

The idiom to 'breed like rabbits' implies the ability to produce babies very quickly, so the association of Easter with rabbits, eggs and day-old chicks is generally interpreted as referring to ancient pagan fertility rites celebrating the vernal equinox, springtime, rising fertility among animals, new life, the rebirth of nature after the winter, etc.

Easter is, of course, also the oldest and most important Christian feast, celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion, as described in the New Testament. As a penance, some early church congregations abstained from eggs during Lent. The arrival of Easter marked the end of fasting, a time for consuming eggs again and for giving them around as gifts.

To return to the Easter Bunny; rabbits and hares are both prolific breeders and have long been portrayed as fertility symbols. They breed quickly in the normal way but also boost their reproduction rate by the biological phenomenon of superfoetation.

Superfoetation is the ability of a mother to carry foetuses of different ages, that is, to become pregnant while already pregnant, in other words, the ability to carry developing offspring conceived during two different oestrous cycles.

Superfoetation is extremely rare, but not unknown, in humans. In a handful of recorded cases, twins have been born with one baby demonstrably a month older than the other. The phenomenon is most common among mice but it has also been reported among fish, rats, rabbits, hares, horses, sheep, kangaroos and cats.

The ability of rabbits to breed quickly made them a popular farm animal and source of food in the past. They were often farmed on islands as it was the easiest way to confine them. The earliest record of a rabbit farm in Ireland dates from 1191 when a warren was established on Lambay Island off north Co Dublin.

Irrespective of the origins of the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs for children, do enjoy Easter and get out and savour the many wonders of the natural world at this lovely time of year.

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