The Easter Bunny, who goes by E.B., slumped in the chair across my desk like a box of melted crayons. Pastel colors smeared his matted and otherwise dirty fur. The only primary color was the red that streaked his eyes. The air was infused with the sickening smell of booze and sweat as the alcohol wept from his pores.
“Man, I don’t how much longer I can do this,” he said. “I don’t sleep. Do you know how long it takes to dye millions of eggs and coordinate their delivery? And some kids expect Easter baskets! I don’t even have a workshop like that fat-sack up north does.”
For millennia, E.B. has been trying to get in on the human belief game, get some of that good old ‘real creature’ recognition. Some time back he followed the lead of his peers the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. You know, the old “provide services to humans” game: he scratches your back, you provide him with validation . His appearance was too genteel to be considered scary like the Boogey Man or even Sasquatch, who have very small workloads.
Like Santa, E.B. inserted himself into Christian customs. Santa had already taken the birth of Jesus as his day. E.B. took Easter. He used Santa’s tactic of bribing kids, but instead of presents he started with colored chicken eggs that he ‘laid’ and hid from the kids. Hiding them reduced the number he had to produce. Kids who didn’t get any eggs just assumed they were hidden too well. And at the time, eggs were cheap. Then egg prices skyrocketed as did the number of kids. And then Easter baskets came into play. All of this to celebrate the resurrection of a 3-day dead Jesus from 2000 years ago. To his amazement, he was accepted this way.
But E.B. was tired. He wanted to be accepted by science as real so he could retire as the Easter Bunny and simply enjoy life as a large woodland creature.
This is how I came to find him sitting across from me. I am a scientist who advises ‘mythical’ creatures. I long-ago advised the painfully shy Loch Ness Monster to remain hidden in an undisclosed lake (not Loch Ness) and have deployed many disreputable hucksters who pretend to be scientists. You may know them as cryptozoologists.
E.B. chewed and ripped off a hangnail. “Can’t I just get accepted as a large rabbit?”
“Maybe, but you’re going to have to be more rabbit-like.”
“Like eating carrots and hopping around?”
“Certainly you’ll need to lose the bipedal gait and yes, you need to be more of a vegetarian. So no more bacon cheeseburgers.”
“Most of all, there are two things you need to do if you want to be accepted by science. The first is that you have to stop this ‘egg-laying’ business. All egg-laying mammals are known as monotremes, which is Greek for ‘one-hole’ and in this case refers to a cloaca. Only the platypus and the echidna (once considered ‘mythical’ themselves) are monotremes. And they live in Australia. You, my friend, are rabbit-shaped and without a cloaca. All rabbits are classified as lagomorphs, which is Greek for ‘rabbit-shaped.”
“ ‘Rabbit-shaped’? You scientists are clever, aren’t you?”
I said nothing.
“Okay,” E.B. said. “What’s the second thing?”
I leaned back in my chair. “You’re not going to like it.”
He leaned on his elbows across my desk, “Just tell me!”
“It’s Greek. It means ‘to eat feces.’ You need to start eating your feces.”
E.B. threw himself back in his chair. “You want me to eat my own…?” His eyes motioned downward.
“Your feces, yes. Lagomorphs produce both a hard and soft feces. Many of people have seen the small, round ‘rabbit pellet’s’. That’s the hard feces. Some rabbits eat it, but you don’t have to. What very few of us see is the soft feces. The reason we don’t see it is because a rabbit takes it directly from its anus and swallows it like pills.”
E.B.’s mouth was open and he was staring straight ahead. An uncertain and thick silence was held. He said slowly, “I didn’t know bunnies – those cute and cuddly and hoppy rabbits – were so…disgusting. Why would you eat that crap?”
“The short answer is nutrition. Rabbits mostly eat vegetation, which is difficult to break down and a lot of the energy in the vegetation isn’t assimilated and passes straight out of the rabbit. Many herbivorous mammals have this problem. Ruminant animals such as goats, cows, giraffes, and deer regurgitate a ‘cud’ and chew it again to further break down the vegetation. Lagomorphs don’t have the same digestive structure as ruminants (which have multiple stomach chambers) and instead re-ingest feces to increase caloric uptake. Impressively, the rabbit’s gut is able to produce hard feces, which has very few calories and produce a high-calorie soft feces.”
“Egads, man! Why not just eat more grass?”
“There is a cost to foraging for more food. Not just in terms of the energy to go out and find food, but the more time you are foraging, the more you are exposed to predators. Lagomorphs forage at night to avoid predation by visual predators such as hawks and eagles. At night they ignore feces as a food source. During the day they rest in one place and produce soft feces for re-ingestion. So the rabbit can basically eat all day.”
E.B. shook his head. “It’s still disgusting.”
“You’re in good company though. From dung beetles that eat other species’ feces to mice, dogs, pigs, beavers, nutria and lemurs, many animals re-ingest feces. Heck, it has been reported in mammoths from 10,000 years ago! Presumably because there was little vegetation to graze then.The overall notion is to gain nutrition.”
“So, to be a rabbit I have eat my own feces?”
“It could be worse.” I handed him a copy of Hirakawa and Haberl’s 1998 paper entitled, The behavior of licking the everted rectum in shrews.
“E. Gads. I need a drink.”
“That might help things go down. Just don’t let a scientist see you swill from your bottle of cheap bourbon.”
I handed E.B. his file with my recommendations, as unpleasant as they seemed. E.B. dragged himself out the door.
The door opened again. It was my next client.
“Ah, Mr. A.S. What can I do for you?”
Scientific sources consulted:
Geis, A.D. 1957. Coprophagy in the cottontail rabbit. Journal of Mammalogy 38:136
Hirakawa, H. 2001. Coprophagy in leporids and other mammalian herbivores. Mammal Review 31:61
Hirakawa, H. and Haberl, W. 1998. The behaviour of licking the everted rectum in shrews (Soricidae, Insectivora).
Soave, O. and Brand, C.D. 1991. Coprophagy in animals: A review. Cornell Vet 81:357
van Geel, B. et al. 2011. Mycological evidence of coprophagy from the feces of an Alaskan Late Glacial mammoth. Quaternary Science Reviews 30:2289