Rabbits, Reproduction and Making Mochi on the Moon

Photo made by Cassandra Lee
Article originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/rabbits-reproduction-and-making-mochi-moon

Rabbits have an undoubtedly important association with Easter, but they’ve played important roles in many societies through the ages. 

In Japanese folklore there is a rabbit who lives on the moon and makes mochi (rice cakes). Historically rabbits were believed to be hermaphrodites, which led to their association with the Virgin Mary in Christianity, as they could reproduce while maintaining their virginity.

In modern times, rabbits continued their association with reproduction when they became the vector for the first pregnancy test. Scientists discovered in 1931 that if the urine of a pregnant female human was injected into an immature female mouse or rabbit, the animal’s ovaries would show signs of follicular maturation and ovulation within a few days, due to the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).

This  rabbit test lead to the phrase “the rabbit died” being a euphemism for being pregnant, though this itself is a misnomer, since all rabbits and mice used for this test had to be killed before their ovaries could be examined and the test results given.

Luckily today we detect hCG in pregnant people’s urine via the dipstick test, no bunny death necessary! Though rabbits have maintained their association with sex and fertility, largely due to their short (only 30 days!) gestational periods.