Why I'm skeptical of the "Earless Bunny of Fukushima"


[Video Link]

This bunny is earless. But why? According to the buzz on the Internet, it's because he was born near the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meldown—the victim of radiation exposure in the womb. Theoretically, that could be true. But I'm not convinced. Specifically, before you let this bunny give freak you out, I think you need to demand two key pieces of evidence.

First, we don't actually know where this bunny came from. Everything I've seen on it is based on one video, and isn't particularly well sourced. Without that, it's impossible to know whether the bunny even comes from Japan, let alone the Fukushima area. It's also impossible to know whether this bunny was really born recently.

Second (and probably more important) earless bunnies aren't a particularly rare phenomenon. You don't even need a genetic mutation to get one. In fact, mother bunnies—especially those living with overcrowding, or other stressful conditions—are known to "over groom" newborns, biting their little ears down to nubs in the process. It's a common enough occurrence to spark debates on rabbit owner websites over whether or not earless baby bunnies should be killed. (And three years ago, Vincent the earless bunny—born nowhere near any recent nuclear meltdowns—became an Internet sensation on the strength of his cuteness alone.)

It boils down to this: Radiation exposure has health risks. Radiation can be a teratogen—something that can affect the physical development of a person or animal. But a weird-looking bunny in a video is not necessarily proof of a nuclear-related mutation in Japan. I'm not saying there's no way they could possibly be related. But, to start believing that, I'd first need proof that this bunny is from where he's supposed to be from, is the age he is supposed to be, and that he actually exited the womb earless. Until that exists, I think it's more likely that this bunny (wherever he's from) became earless the same way most earless bunnies do.

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  1. Still, I hope my own baby has ears.

    It’s scary having a pregnant wife so close to several nuclear power plants in meltdown.

    Should I leave the country? It’s a tough decision — here there’s radiation, but there’s also really really good universal health care. In my own country, the fabulous US of A, there are no nuclear plants in meltdown, but my wife and I and the baby would have no health care.

    I stress about this daily.

    1. Hate to say it but “the survey sez……you’re in the right place!” There just isn’t much to come home to in the U.S.
      No jobs, no affordable healthcare, lying politicos (much like Japan!), ETC!! Best of luck to you and your family-you’ll need it!

    2. There is a Japanese article stating that they found the rabbit and examined
      it. The rabbit was born on a breeder’s farm that is about 40km away from the plant.
      It is quiet clear that it was born after the explosion and they examined if the ears were bitten off, but there were no signs of that, like scars or hairless spots.
      Of course this is no scientific examination.
      But what worries me the most, is that the Japanese government hasn’t given any statement concerning the rabbit yet.
      I am starting to think they are avoiding the topic.

  2. The other day, I ended up embroiled in an argument with one of my friends about a lineup we’d entered. She stated that we wouldn’t be in line that long. I challenged her assertion on the basis that, until we saw the line move a couple of times, we didn’t have sufficient data to make a determination about how long we would be waiting. We could only observe the number of people currently in the line. I was then accused of being a pessimist, of course. I merely shrugged.

    Likely, there will be some in this comment thread ready to call Maggie an apologist for the nuclear industry. On the contrary, the point is simply to think: be critical and enumerate what facts that you know against any conclusions you may be formulating.

  3. yeah! it could be just the result of natural evolution-giving cosmic rays. (who among you can prove that it isn’t? – huh?! put your hand down Hermione) whhhy this could be the beginning of a new and improved rabbit. more streamlined and energy efficient.

    [dramatic scene change]
    Mr. Burns: Hello. Many questions have been asked about our friend the no-earred bunny. So to clarify the matter I have asked (an actor playing) Charles Darwin! Hello Charles.
    Charles Darwin Actor: Hello Monty!
    Mr. Burns: Would you please explain the theory for this no-earred bunny?
    Charles Darwin Actor: Oh certainly! Every now and then Mother Nature experiments with her creatures, giving them longer legs, sharper claws, or in this case, no ears. If she finds the changes favorable the creatures will multiply and a new race of superbunny will be created. I would not mind having a lack of ears

  4. “It’s a common enough occurrence to spark debates on rabbit owner websites over whether or not earless baby bunnies should be killed.”

    Christ. What the f*ck is wrong with people?

    1. “It’s a common enough occurrence to spark debates on rabbit owner websites over whether or not earless baby bunnies should be killed.”

      Christ. What the f*ck is wrong with people?

      Well, you can take solace that at least on the linked website the ‘debate’ was pretty one-sided against the bunny culling.

  5. It’s always possible that such a mutation happened because of radiation, but rabbits can be born without ears. Google “Vincent the earless rabbit” for an example from 2008.

  6. I’m skeptical, but there is a supposed interview with the bunny’s owner in the June 14th edition of Flash magazine. Flash is a tabloid in Japan, but the tabloids tend to break the biggest stories since the regular media is so docile and inept.

    More on the bunny from the Japan Times – http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fd20110612bj.html

    “..”I’ve been raising rabbits for over 10 years, and this is the first time something like this has happened,” the clearly disturbed owner, a woman in her 50s, tells Flash (June 14).

    Rabbits’ gestation period is approximately four weeks, so the earless bunny was definitely conceived after the March 11 accident. “After its birth, I also stopped eating sansai,” the owner frets.

    An accompanying photo of a radiation meter on the farm premises displayed a count of 2.4 microsieverts per hour. Readings in central Tokyo, by contrast, have hovered around 0.06..”

  7. I just read about this on a Syrian lesbian’s blog. It’s true. I can vouch for it. So can (s)he.

  8. I’m one of the people who thinks this is waaaaay worse than they are letting on as far as food contamination, but one earless bunny is an anecdote, not data. Did the other bunnies show any problems? And wouldn’t it be likely that they would (either deformities or simply spontaneously aborted?

  9. Poor bunnies are living packed together in a junk heap of scrap metal and shipping pallets.

    Kinda like me, now that I think about it.

  10. Good God people. Earless bunnies really aren’t that rare. I used to raise them. When I was a kid raising bunnies I thought it was as macabre as a mommy rabbit chewing the ears off one of her kits. I thought like a child then, and outgrew it. Now someone is stretching biology to the point that a short eared (you realize it simply has short ears not entirely missing ears) rabbit *must* be the by-product of radiation, therefore born in Japan after tons of radiation, and not by genetics.

    I’m glad there weren’t video phones after Hiroshima, based on this sparse evidence we’d have thousands of videos to look at.

  11. The problem with this story – even assuming it is 100% true – is that one can’t really say if this was a 1-in-a-million random mutation, or one caused from radiation.

    As a person living with a rare genetic mutation, some times life just sucks and it’s no ones fault.

  12. I just found out this is a hoax. It is really a brown rabbit from Denver with it’s ears under bald cap.

  13. I’m doing some research to post a bit on that report in the next couple weeks.

    Right now, there is very, very, very little known definitively about what is going on in the Fukushima area. And what we do know for sure cannot (at this point) be tied to excessive radiation.

    I’m all for calling out nuclear-related mutation when it happens. But I also happen to think it’s pretty unnecessary (and, in fact, somewhat discrediting of situations where the evidence is strong) to take largely undocumented phenomenon of unknown origin and call it nuclear-related mutation.

  14. “ready to call Maggie an apologist for the nuclear industry”

    I don’t think that appropriate skepticism (cutesy country hoaxters are common … and should be welcome) is inappropriate in the face of such claims.

    That said, the industry doesn’t intend to apologize for Fukushima, or anything else. It not only completely lacks a sense of regret for its continuous decades of failures, it lacks of appropriate skepticism towards its always-teetering program (for which so many other promising programs have been deliberately sacrificed for decades).

  15. Science has blinded us to the obvious truth. A rabbit born without ears isn’t necessarily a sign of high radiation, but it is a sign. We should consult the appropriate oracle to see what sacrifices are required.

  16. Thanks Maggie for cutting straight through the crap, as always. I am also quite skeptical that this is a sign of something radiation-related. Why?

    *This is one rabbit. If such defects were going to happen it would have occoured in more than one documented case. People have entered the exclusion zone. A non-profit went around collecting all the domesticated animals which were fending for themselves in the zone so they could be reuinted with their owners. If effects were going to occour surely it would have been in those animals, not one outside the exclusion zone.

    *As you mentioned, this defect is quite common in rabbits. There are plenty of adorable pictures on the net of earless rabbits. This guy is way cuter than Vincent. Such a birth defect does not compare with the much more minor birth defects observed in the largest study of animals affected by the Chernobyl disaster:

    “In one study, Mousseau found that barn swallows living in heavily contaminated areas had much higher rates of abnormalities–ranging from partial albinism (b, c, d), deformed beaks (e, f), and bent or asymmetrical tail feathers (h, i).”
    From This Nat Geo article.

    So the observable effects on birds in the Chernobyl exclusion zone were minor changes in appearance, not major abnormalities. They were born with crooked feathers, not without a beak.

    Potential effects on humans? Forget about it. This IRT Chernobyl:
    The doses received are also unlikely to have any effect on the number of stillbirths, miscarriages, delivery complications, or the overall health of children of exposed parents. Since 1986, the number of reported cases of malformations in new-born babies in Belarus has increased in both contaminated and uncontaminated areas. This does not appear to be related to radiation and may be the result of people reporting these cases more readily.

    What about effects on mice?
    The mice, as well as other small rodents like voles, appear to be thriving. One 1996 study, by Texas Tech University’s Robert Baker and University of Georgia’s Ron Chesser, seemed to find large numbers of mutation rates in otherwise healthy voles in Chernobyl; the authors retracted the paper a year later, saying they could no longer find evidence of mutations.

    Kangaroo dog? Rabies-immune rabbit? Duckling with four legs?
    Always remember: Nature is awesome.

    Also always remember:
    Japan loves hysteria. emmdeeaych says:

    So the observable effects on birds in the Chernobyl exclusion zone were minor changes in appearance, not major abnormalities. They were born with crooked feathers, not without a beak.

    Exactly!! The major abnormalities are almost always fatal in utero, leading to miscarriage far far more than viable deformity.

    1. Well, sure they are – but you have NO observed evidence that such fatal in utero abnormalities have actually occurred around Chernobyl: and I have not heard of any crash in those bird populations, which would indicate any such increase in the number of in utero die-offs due to mutation has occurred.

      You would think that the people observing the Chernobyl birds would have noticed broken or unhatched eggs in nests, or a drop in the numbers of birds. Funny they don’t mention those things – maybe they did not see evidence, for the existence of large numbers of in utero fatal birth defects.

      But perhaps you have evidence of such? Could you share it with us, if you do?

      1. Ugly Canuck-

        Disregarding the birds for a moment, perhaps you’d like to read up on the public health situation in the Ukraine after Chernobyl. I’d recommend Adriana Petryna’s work. She has a good explanation of why it is that the estimates for the number of human radiation-related diseases vary by a factor of 100 between the estimates compiled in the Ukraine and by the WHO. Namely, the politics of the situation and the specifics of the social welfare/compensation regimes have made it difficult to produce reliable estimates. Nonetheless, something like 10-15% of Ukraine’s national budget when she was writing (late 90’s, I think) was devoted to the expenses associated with Chernobyl. There are thousands and thousands of people who are convinced that they have radiation-related diseases there. It was an immense disaster. The widespread uncertainty about the effects of radiation made that worse, not better.

        As far as the earless bunny, well, of course, it’s going to be impossible to determine a relationship to radiation exposure. That in itself is not going to suffice to make people feel safe. In fact, it will do the opposite.

        And as far attempting to suppress awareness of the existence of the earless bunny, well, we’ve seen how well that strategy works, both in Ukraine and in Japan.

        1. Anon #30:
          Ms Petranya is an anthropologist, and examines human beliefs.

          She is “teaching the controversy”, to use a phrase from other “belief specialists”….

          I like medical science and physics, that is to say, experiments, and not interviews of citizens alone, to determine how the bio-physical world operates.

          Ms Petranya studies ideas, not physics, not biology.

          “Rather than getting bogged down in trying to sort out a clear picture of how Chernobyl has affected Ukrainian life, Petryna deploys the ethnographic practice of including testimony from opposing positions. These conflicting voices and stories work to suggest that there is no definitive truth or answers to the questions raised by Chernobyl. ”

          From: http://foundanthrosci.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/week-13-peter-an-ethnography-of-disaster-adriana-petryna%E2%80%99s-life-exposed/

          That says to me: “Teach the controversy. Don’t get bogged down by searching for the truth, as it is what people believe, not what actually is, that is “really”(sic) important.”

          It seems to me that ALL propagandists, all salespeople, think like that, too.

          I say: stick with the evidence – go with the probabilities shown by physical science, and not be guided by the possibilities entertained or held in the “popular mind” (sic) as described/defined by the social sciences.

  17. I love Japan, but you can’t ignore that they are prone to hysteria and love a good conspiracy theory.

    And yet foreigners, not Japanese panicked and left Japan in droves right after the quake. Most Japanese I know stayed calm and went about their daily lives while my foreign friends and relatives read foreign media (which, BTW, was way more sensationalist) and predicted the impending demise of Japan and its civilization.

    The examples you cited could and did happen pretty much anywhere. Mad cow disease was a worldwide phenomenon; you can’t really blame consumers for being skeptical when there were outbreaks in Japan. Same thing happened all over Europe. Better safe than sorry. See the recent E. coli issue in Europe, exact same thing.

    1. And yet foreigners, not Japanese panicked and left Japan in droves right after the quake.

      ^True – which is the reason why I judged such people so harshly when they did that. My (Japanese) partner’s friend left for the USA with his Japanese girlfriend. Needless to say she now thinks less of the guy. Another friend is a Japanese girl married to an Israeli guy. He was freaking out, sealing all the windows and eventually fled with his family to Osaka for a few weeks. His wife’s father was like “WTF is wrong with you fools?”

      The examples you cited could and did happen pretty much anywhere.

      But not to the same scale as Japan. I can’t find concrete stats, but this page suggests that McDonald’s global profits fell by only 2% in 2002.

      you can’t really blame consumers for being skeptical when there were outbreaks in Japan

      Ummm…. yes you can. The beef came from Australia where there were no outbreaks whatsoever.

  • The earless bunny is haunting. The worlds unspoken collective fear of the unknown has welled up to such pressures that authoring an article doubting the source of any potential ICON of FUKUSHIMA is almost a requirement. Such a visceral metaphor must be absolutely vetted or the argument over the source of the ICON will trump the power of the ICON and the deeper conversation of how Fukushima is killing us all slowly quietly and softly. Like a bunny. To this end, in my humble opinion, whether the image is authentically from the right prefecture, in the right wind pattern, exposed to the right level of radiation etc etc etc. is irrelevant. This bunny is Fukushima. It is Fukushima because it is on this planet now. Today. We are it. We are all losing our ears to this madness of nuclear energy as a clean viable and futuristic source of our conveniences. Its pure madness. And yes, I agree, earless bunnies are not that rare.

  • I couldn’t tell from the video, but is this bunny missing ears entirely, like no openings, or just the external ear flaps?

    The environment these critters are living in is kind of grotty and crowded, and that is the only one there of that age, so it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if that bunny lost its ears to an environmental cause.

  • The answer is, if it’s on the internet, then it must be true, especially if it conforms with your beliefs. Anyone who is skeptical must be, perhaps secretly, against your beliefs. Keep your thinking simple, people, to avoid confusion.

  • I work with rescue rabbits and have 3 buns in my family. One of my boys is a one-eared bunny. He’s a rescue from what we think was an abandoned rabbit meat farm. When rabbits fight, the ears and nose are the first places attacked.

    That being said, scaring would be very obvious if the ears were bitten off. Usually there are small numbs of the ears still present and blad spots. Think about it, if a person had their ears bitten off, wouldn’t you expect to see some kind of scar?

    The real question I have, is why that bunny is significantly smaller than all the rabbits around him. If he were part of a litter, there would be at least ONE (but more commonly 3-5) other bunnies his size. Judging by his face, I’d say he very young and all the rabbits around him seemed to be at least a year or older.

  • We have an earless young bunny in the neighborhood this year (near Boulder, CO). We call him Nubby.

  • No matter how you slice it, global CO2 emissions and fossil fuel usage would drop much faster if there was widespread adoption of nuclear power + renewables compared to only renewables because renewables have big problems like high cost, not being available 24/7, etc

    How many people worldwide would have to suffer and/or die of radiation in the next say 10,000 years to equal the number of those who suffer and/or die if global warming continues?

  • Anyone know any birdcall experts? Maybe they could tell whether the cheeps in the background are likely to be Japanese birds.

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