The Myth of the Carrot-Chomping Rabbit

Just after dark one recent Sunday, D came into the kitchen and requested a carrot.

"Dinner will be in 15 minutes. Can you wait to eat until then?" 

"No no no I don't want to eat a carrot." He pointed out the window at the shadow hopping and sniffing around our backyard. He wanted to feed a carrot to the bunny. 

"If you get your boots, I will get you a carrot."

A few minutes later, my husband and I watched from the windows as our three-year-old tromped outside for his first solo adventure. He tossed the carrot onto the mulch, came back inside, and watched the window until dinner.

That's when it first occurred to me the bunny might not eat the carrot.

But of course bunnies eat carrots. The evidence is everywhere. There's the iconic Bugs Bunny. There's the not-yet-iconic Snowball and his carrot carving abilities. There's D's beloved stuffed "Bunny," with arms sewn into a perpetual hug around its favorite root vegetable. There's Bunny Luv, the name of baby carrots made under the Grimmway Farms brand. There's cake decorating giant Wilton, which makes cupcake toppers of sugar bunnies holding tiny sugar carrots. 

This is not bunny food. PC: Jonathan Pielmayer for Unsplash.

This is not bunny food. PC: Jonathan Pielmayer for Unsplash.

But it turns out all of those bunnies are lying to us. Bunnies in the wild don't eat carrots. Domesticated bunnies do eat carrots, but not without consequences. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found 11% of pet rabbits have tooth decay, in large part because of being fed relatively high sugar foods like carrots and apples instead of hay, grass, and greens.

So if bunnies don't seek out carrots, how did the world's most famous rabbit start eating them?

Some argue that Bugs Bunny is responsible for bunny-carrot connection. Bugs' habit was originally a nod to Clark Gable's character of the 1934 It Happened One Night. It appears that, like so much satire, Bugs' carrots went over the heads of today's audiences, thus the association of carrots and bunnies.

The Bugs Bunny explanation is strong, but perhaps incomplete. Although Bugs' style of carrot-chomping exposition was a first for rabbits, he was hardly the first carrot-eating bunny. He was preceded by two equally iconic and carrot-loving rabbits: Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit and A.A. Milne's Rabbit. 

The next morning, after a late night Googling about bunny diets, I was a bit relieved to see that the carrot had gone untouched. 

D was not. 

Thinking the bunny to have not seen his offering, he went on his second solo venture to move the carrot from the mulch to the stairs.

A second solo trek to feed the backyard bunny.

A second solo trek to feed the backyard bunny.

And there it sat, ignored by our two frequent bunny visitors, multiple flocks of birds, and a neighborhood cat. 

Later that week, D and I both pulled on our boots for a walk in the the park behind our house. As we stomped up the steps, D made a discovery. The carrot had withered to a chubby pencil, but there were bright orange bits where the now ember-colored skin had been chewed away. 

No matter what the science says, for now these are bite marks.

No matter what the science says, for now these are bite marks.

D is certain it was the bunny. And maybe it was. Or a bird. Or the cat. Or maybe just the weather. I know nothing about animal bite patterns.

But for right now, I'm going with D's version. D has learned the sweet reward of success after a long and patient wait. So I can be equally patient and let the bunny-carrot myth stand a little longer.