In the fading light you see the occasional flash of movement on the horizon, the stirrings of nocturnal creatures emerging from dens and burroughs to hunt and forage through the evening hours. You catch a glimpse of something that looks like a rabbit scrambling through the underbrush, but something about it sounds an alarm in your head, and as it stares back at you from the shadows, you get the distinct impression that this isn’t a regular rabbit.
There are a few kinds of rabbit-shaped creatures in American and European myths, so if you see something that looks like a rabbit but isn’t quite right, here are some likely candidates for the type of creature you’ve just run across.
The jackalope is a relatively modern American cryptid, inspired by European folklore and twisted into a new creature that is bigger, meaner, and weirder than its forefathers from the old country. This creature is said to roam the American West, especially the plateaus and prairies of Wyoming, and described as a giant jackrabbit with pronghorn-like antlers.
While rabbits and hares are notoriously skittish creatures, the jackalope is known to be fierce, not running from hunters but attacking them, goring and slashing at those who cross its path. Hunters are encouraged to wear stovepipes on their legs to protect from the claws and antlers of the jackalope, and warned that their chances of bagging the beast are slim. Thanks to its speed and intelligence, shooting a jackalope is said to be wildly difficult and catching one live nearly impossible—given that jackalope milk is said to have strong healing properties, trapping a live jackalope can definitely be a tempting prospect. Its one weakness is a classic old West vice: whiskey. Leave a bowl of good ‘ole bourbon out and you have a good chance of attracting a jackalope. A drunk jackalope will be much easier to catch than a sober one.
Jackalopes may have near human intelligence, and are said to be capable of replicating human speech. One of their favorite tricks is to listen to songs sung around a campfire at night and to sing those songs back, like parrots mimicking and responding to humans. This may not be their most dangerous trait, but it is their creepiest.
While the whiskey-drinking, campfire song-singing jackalope roams the American West, its cousin, the wolpertinger, lives a much quieter life in the forests of Bavaria. Like its boisterous American counterpart, the wolpertinger is a rabbit with the antlers of a deer, with the addition of pheasant-like wings and oversized fangs.
The wolpertinger is small and stealthy, and tends to flee hunters rather than pick a fight. Its potential for harm comes from its defense mechanisms, which tend to be supernatural. These creatures are said to spray a foul smelling liquid when startled, much like skunks, but with an unfortunate magical twist. If you’re unlucky enough to be sprayed by a wolpertinger, the smell will not wash off but dissipate after seven years. This means you’re in for seven years of smelling absolutely awful, so maybe think twice before you try and sneak up on a wolpertinger. It is also said that their saliva causes thick hair to grow wherever it contacts skin, which can either be a curse or a lucrative business opportunity depending on the circumstances.
Although timid, the wolpertinger is drawn to light, so your chances of crossing paths with this weird mini-monster increase if you bring a torch, campfire, or some kind of magical light into their territory. Keep a close watch on the ground and the air at night if you want to avoid the seven year stink.
The milk hare may look like the most innocuous of our possible rabbit foes, but is possibly the most dangerous. It has the appearance of a typical hare, no antlers or wings or any other weird physical features to give it away, but this creature is wholly unnatural in origins. Milk hares, also called troll hares, are constructed out of discarded organic materials like toenails, hair, wood shavings, or wool scraps by a witch, who then makes a pact with Satan to bring the gross pile of garbage to life.
Once animated, the trash rabbit becomes something akin to a familiar, but with a singular purpose: to steal milk. Yeah, you read that right. Milk hares sneak into barns and pastures to drink all of the milk from the cows, leaving none for their owners. When their magical little garbage bellies are full, milk hares return to their creators and vomit all the milk into buckets to be churned into butter, effectively cursing a farmer’s cows and ending dairy production.
Murals dating back to the 15th century found in Swedish churches depict a close relationship between witches, demons, and milk hares, which hints at the true threat in a milk hare encounter. The creatures themselves aren’t likely to put up much of a fight, but they are said to be unkillable by conventional means, with silver bullets more effective than conventional weapons. But if you decide to attack a milk hare, be warned: any harm done to the hare will be felt by its creator, which means you have the wrath of a witch to deal with. Witches can deliver curses and magical attacks through the hare, with sudden and dramatic illness being the most common reported aftereffect. Direct physical contact isn’t required—just being near the hare is enough to succumb to the curse it carries.
The only way to really eliminate a milk hare is to draw blood from the witch who created it. Since she can receive non-verbal communication from her creation, attacking the hare can sometimes be enough to lure her out of hiding, but you’d better be ready to face the wrath of a likely angry witch before you start wailing on this weird little rabbit. You can definitely draw the witch out if you scoop up a little milk hare vomit, smear it inside the barrel of a gun and heat it over a fire, but honestly, who has the time for all that.