In Praise of Little Tux

Little Tux

Little Tux, my bunny, in profile

Little Tux

In my back yard there is a bunny colony. It began as a couple of pet bunnies that I let have individual ‘runs’, and after watching their behaviour change with the free time, I could not bear to put them back in hutches. That was 3 or 4 generations ago.

Along the way, I’ve learned many things about bunnies that you never learn from a pet kept in the house or a hutch. One is just how brave they are. Another is how much the are like us.

The ‘founder’ of this line was “Cupcake” a mini-Rex. Named before we knew he was a boy bunny. His spouse was Panda (a black and white pattern “Dutch”) and their daughter was Java. With her mothers pattern but her fathers colors.

Girl bunnies have a slimmer face than boy bunnies. Subtile, but you can see it. So this picture of Java shows her slim elegant face, and further down the black and white boy bunny has a broader stronger nose and face.

Java Eating Corn Stalk

Java Eating Corn Stalk

In their first litter there were also three boy bunnies. Magellan (named such as he would explore the entire world available to him. As a baby just able to walk, he explored the entire couch and end tables while his litter mates were content with a lap. Aragorn (who you saw “helping” me plant), Jack (‘the pirate’ as he had a snaggle tooth), and Toffee (named for his color, in the miniRex brown).

Bunny eating a mouthful of leaves

Planting? You mean it's not a salad bar? Well at least I saved you some time...

Little Tux is the son of Jack, and looks like him (with the Panda black and white pattern). His mom was named “Mimi” for “screaming Mimi” as when first picked up to inspect, at about the size of an apple, upon being turned onto her back she opened her tiny little mouth and issued a blood curdling scream that I thought would get the cops called… then when I didn’t eat her, shut up and just looked at me. The sound was very much like a child screaming. I was never able to approach her again. And as a result, all the present tribe are much more cautious than prior generations.

So Little Tux has never known a cage. His spouse is a small brown and white name Ginger (as it was a reddish brown when she was younger). Both are very small bunnies. Perhaps a kilogram or about 2 pounds. When you cross divergent breeds, the result is a change of size. Bunnies are inconsistent in size after an outcrossing. In this case, I’ve selected for the smaller ones.

Ginger, my bunny, 'periscoping' looking for a bean leaf

Ginger, 'periscoping' looking for a bean leaf

Partly by accident. Jack was the smallest of his litter, but also very agile. Originally named for “Jack Sparrow” he also developed some Jackie Chan. Originally the boys were on one side of a fence and the girls on the other. Jack figured out how to do a Jackie Chan style run at the corner and bounce off the wall to get over a 4 foot+ high fence. So “small but acrobatic” was ‘selected for’…

At any rate, that how we came to be where we are.

So for a while I’ve gotten to observe ‘free range bunnies’. And what I’ve observed has changed me forever.

They have a very complex social behaviour, a deep understanding of the lives around them, and a profound bravery. Among other things. And they speak.

I’ve got a basic skill at speaking “Bunnish”. A gentle tooth chitter is “I’m happy and things are OK”. A small soft grunt is “I’m doing OK, how about you?” Unfortunately, a slightly tighter shorter higher pitched grunt is “Danger, Raptor, RUN!” as I learned once when my ‘accent’ was not quite right and the whole tribe scattered, a couple giving a quick glance skyward as they fled. The sounds are very quiet and somewhat rare, but present. I’m sure they think I’m shouting as I can’t be quite that quiet when I speak.

So I sit in a comfy chair under the awning and watch my bunnies and ponder these folks with their social lives and their language skills. And I see in them behaviours that we think of as the best of human behaviour.

Little Tux ‘takes point’. He is first out to test the safety of the yard. Realize that there are several free range cats in the neighborhood (including ours) and on more than one occasion I’ve had to usher one of them from the bunny yard. They are at least twice his mass. So from his perspective, he is going out to beat the bushes to see if he can wake up a tiger…

(I’ll try to get a picture of Little Tux on guard, but it’s hard to do as he takes his duty seriously and any approach puts him into action.)

When something does happen (such as me starting to move) while Ginger herds the kids to cover, Little Tux runs TOWARD the “issue”; then makes a turn to run across the line of sight away from the kids. Be it cat, me, or the occasional raptor that comes to sit on the fence and inspect the yard (a dive attack foiled by the overhead ‘clutter’ I have in place… bamboo garden poles and a tree, along with the wire garden square fences). Who among us would run unarmed toward a raptor our size or a tiger?

Java, a girl bunny, awaiting a snack next to Bean Mountain

Java, a girl bunny, awaiting a snack next to Bean Mountain

Take just a minute to think about that. For most of the day he sits on a slightly higher bit of more open ground, keeping watch. He is deliberately exposing himself, while the others are hidden or grazing the lawn patch. Doing his “duty” of being the target of any attack so that they will live. Charging The Tiger when needed. Just as I would do in such a village. And Ginger will do the same if for some reason Little Tux is not “in front”. She will act to distract as the kids run for cover (a ‘brush pile’ with conveniently placed plastic tubs as roofs placed at bunny height off the ground for rain proofed spots of cover, with odd pruned limbs leaned over that.)

We like to think of such bravery and strategy as being a human trait, and the best of human traits at that. Yet here we have the same self sacrifice and the same bravery in bunnies. We like to think of ‘motherly love’ as a very human thing, yet here we have a bunny acting just as we act. Herding the kids to safety or taking on the tiger if all else fails.

It has taken over a year to gain the trust of Little Tux and Ginger. They will now take bean leaves from my hand, and on one occasion Ginger came up to me and ‘sniffed my toes’. I was sitting very still in my chair, having just given her some cabbage leaves. I felt that gentle tickle of bunny whiskers on my feet as she “checked me out”, then laid down under my chair. Bunnies love bean leaves and cabbage. They are my ticket to friendship ;-)

Ginger, my bunny, eating a Runner Bean leaf

Ginger eating a Runner Bean leaf, a favorite treat

So I have been carefully and completely evaluated by bunnies and found to be ‘a good fellow’, even if my ears are too short and my eyes face forward in the predator fashion… I could ask for no higher praise and can receive no happier reward. My only regret is that, as bunnies rarely live much past 4 years ( usually 1 or 2 max in the wild), I have to start all over earning that trust again with the next generation, and all too soon.

Little Tux, my bunny, eating a Runner Bean leaf.  A favorite treat.

Little Tux eating a Runner Bean leaf. A favorite treat.


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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20 Responses to In Praise of Little Tux

  1. Ben says:


    Yes, it is a thoroughly wonderful expericance to ”connect” with animals in this way, to be completely trusted by them.
    Especially if they are wild

  2. Verity Jones says:

    How lovely to see them after hearing so much about them – and your garden.

    After 40-odd years of living with at least one, I am fairly fluent in ‘cat’ and I never cease to be amazed at their displays of affection to us (and I don’t just mean the dead mice left beside me on my pillow).

    It is fantastic to gain the trust of an animal or bird. We’ve had very tame robins in the garden; as a species they have that reputation anyway, but my parents managed to tame one in their garden such that when I was sawing up bush prunings, he sat on a branch less than two feet from where I was sawing it, picking off all the disturbed insects. He stayed beside me for over hour, no matter if I moved. It was wonderful.

    My father also describes having a whistling contest one evening with a blackbird in the garden. Whatever the bird sang he copied, despite the phrases becoming more and more complex. Eventually the bird almost seemed to get cross that it couldn’t outsing him and went off on a very complex and convoluted riff such that he had to just laugh. When he tried it then next evening, the bird immediately went for the complex song as if to say “I’m not taking any nonsense this evening”.

  3. Gnomish says:

    this anthropologist has ‘gone native’

    REPLY::{ I’ve deleted this link since it sends you to a paid service. There is a “free” option, which failed to give me anything usable under Opera. An attempt to try it again on I.E(xploder) gave a message that I’d reached my free download limit and I needed to pay to view. Please use some other service and don’t bother posting links to that one again. It looks too much like SPAM in that it is trapping folks into buying a service. I’ll be adding it to the SPAM filter. E.M.Smith ]

  4. Adrian Ashfield says:

    I had already concluded you were the kind of person I would like. Your bunny tale confirms that.

    The way people treat animals has a strong correlation to the level of civilization of their society. Which doesn’t say much for the civilization of our world. I find that experimental psychologists are some of the worst, subjecting hundreds of animals to unspeakable pain to satisfy largely idle curiosity. To maintain that animals don’t feel pain is truly absurd.

    I don’t know how to post images on this blog or I would show the progress of Nelly, a baby squirrel now four weeks old, that was very close to death when my daughter found her.

    I have been following your blog because of my interest in climate and find you have made a number of most interesting observations. Thank you!

  5. Gnomish says:

    Once I knew a mockingbird who had learned all the car alarms in the complex – at least a dozen.

  6. dougie says:

    remember well your post on Jack & nice to hear Little Tux
    is carring on his bloodline, doing Jack proud.

    we lost (presume he escaped back to the wild, but we did have a cold/snowy start to the year here in UK, CGW apparently:-) our wild bunny in the garden earlier this year.

    it was nice to watch his antics from afar (would bolt for cover if we were seen, so had to crawl about the kitchen when he was out).

    it’s a rewarding experience to be quiet & let any wild animal trust you.

    your making me & Gail (the boss) all soppy now :-0

  7. Gnomish says:

    bunny chases snake up a tree.
    relentless bunny.
    (real bunny – not the funny climatologist kind that hefner would run out of dodge)

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    The liveleak gave me nothing that worked, but a google found it on youtube

    Some snakes like to enter rabbit burrows and eat the little ones… so Alpha Male Bunny needs to chase them off. Yeah, bunnies are fast…

  9. Soronel Haetir says:

    [SNIP! ~such things are not for bunnies to know of. -Mod.]

    As for agility, I’ve seen some wild rabbits make some amazingly accurate leaps.

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve taken some pictures of Little Tux and Ginger. Uploading now.

    Per the mocking bird, I once visited a pet shop near Sacramento. A new airport had been built and this was now under the ‘take off’ line. Every so often you would hear a jet wind up and roar, but not too loudly, off in the distance.

    Then one started winding up and … very loudly … wweeeeessshhhh ROOOOAAARRRRSSSHHHhh…. the minor bird let loose with a full throated rendition…

    I’ve got to think they had a bit of a problem selling that bird…

  11. j ferguson says:

    Living with the creatures. It seems that we only perceive a small part of what’s going on with them.

    Rover the cat, encountering her first snow on going outside, asking to come in again, and then trying each of the other 4 doors we thought to see if there was one which didn’t have snow.

    And the rest of the time always coming back in the door she’d been let out through even passing other doors to get to it.

    We need more bunny stories, E.M.

  12. Doug Jones says:

    j ferguson, Rover sounds like Pete, the cat in Heinlein’s _Door into Summer_. The opening paragraphs:

    “One winter shortly before the Six Weeks War my tomcat, Petronius the Arbiter, and I lived in an old farmhouse in Connecticut. I doubt if it is there any longer, as it was near the edge of the blast area of the Manhattan near miss, and those old frame buildings burn like tissue paper. Even if it is still standing it would not be a desirable rental because of the fall-out, but we liked it then, Pete and I. The lack of plumbing made the rent low and what had been the dining room had a good north light for my drafting board.
    The drawback was that the place had eleven doors to the outside.
    Twelve, if you counted Pete’s door. I always tried to arrange a door of his own for Pete-in this case a board fitted into a window in an unused bedroom and in which I had cut a cat strainer just wide enough for Pete’s whiskers. I have spent too much of my life opening doors for cats. I once calculated that, since the dawn of civilization, nine hundred and seventy-eight man-centuries have been used up that way. I could show you figures.
    Pete usually used his own door except when he could bully me into opening a people door for him, which he preferred. But he would not use his door when there was snow on the ground.
    While still a kitten, all fluff and buzzes, Pete had worked out a simple philosophy. I was in charge of quarters, rations, and weather; he was in charge of everything else. But he held me especially responsible for weather. Connecticut winters are good only for Christmas cards; regularly that winter Pete would check his own door, refuse to go out it because of that unpleasant white stuff beyond it (he was no fool), then badger me to open a people door.
    He had a fixed conviction that at least one of them must lead into summer weather. Each time this meant that I had to go around with him to each of eleven doors, held it open while he satisfied himself that it was winter out that way, too, then go on to the next door, while his criticisms of my mismanagement grew more bitter with each disappointment.
    Then he would stay indoors until hydraulic pressure utterly forced him outside. When he returned the ice in his pads would sound like little clogs on the wooden floor and he would glare at me and refuse to purr until he had chewed it all out… whereupon he would forgive me until the next time.

    But he never gave up his search for the Door into Summer.”

  13. j ferguson says:

    It’s the same thing. I hadn’t read Heinlein story but my take at the time was that the cat thought there were different universes at each door and the odds were much in favor of the other doors since they had heretofore been reliable. We only went through this once, though. I think she accepted that the white stuff was unavoidable.

    We thought a lot about the idea that each door meant a different universe to the cat supported by it’s always returning to the door it had left by. What if cats see things as tunnels and there isn’t anything out there if they don’t see it – no world beyond.

    I’ve also wondered about cats’ practice of moving their heads around while they are sizing something up. I supposed that they were ranging – getting a better grasp of the geometry in front of them.

    It would be nice to really know.

    Thinking about E.M.’s Bunny protection service. Bunny self sacrifice for the kids ensures the survival and contribution to the genetic pool of the progeny. Loss of the protecting bunny although a direct loss to the pool preserves prior contribution so that the really good raptor deflectors wind up in the genetics and the lousy ones don’t.

    thanks for quoting Heinlein. He’s quite good, isn’t he.

  14. dougie says:

    don’t get me started on SF & bunnies/cats or we will talk ‘worms’

    dune was the best till the story was ‘continued’

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    Our cat will regularly use the front door. If cold and wet, he will go to the back door, when it is cold and wet too, he will give that ‘how could you let it get like this?’ look and return to the front door… then exit with some annoyance.

    He does know that the two doors connect, and will sometimes leave through one and return through the other. Then again, the entire yard area is inside one fence, so he may just compartmentalize it as ‘inside the ring’.

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    @J ferguson: moving the head improves rangefinding. You see this a lot in lizards and other animals close to the ground, especially in the absence of stereo vision. Think of it as synthetic aperture radar in vision.

    Cats pupils mean they can see well in low light, but with some loss of resolution (especially in the ‘up/down’ axis of the long pupil slit) so they may simply be getting a better set of bits to assemble into a full picture.

    Bunnies have an interesting mix of a narrow band of stereo vision out the front with nearly 360 degree broad vision to both sides and toward the back. But they can’t see ‘down and slightly in front’ so all food is found by scent. I’ve held a leaf for them to see, had strong interest, and dropped the leaf, only to get blank stares as they sniffed around to find it… Very specialized eyes for seeing everywhere around and above to some extent, ranging EXACTLY what is dead ahead, and not caring at all about the ground below.

    FWIW, the Alpha Male bunny is also the most muscular and fastest of the tribe and the most experienced. So he stands a much better chance of eluding than the little ones or a pregnant mom. He also tends to have large rear toenails and knows how to use them. They can rip open tender underbelly skin of an unsuspecting small sized predator. (I’ve had bleeding cuts on my forearm as a kid from incorrectly picking up a large buck that didn’t like the idea.) So the tribe has a much better chance of losing no one with this strategy. But yes, the end game is as you described.

    FWIW, the girls are the Engineers. They dig all the tunnels. Yes, I do find it interesting that the women care about the house and the guys just want to hang out and chase around…

  17. j ferguson says:

    The cats on board the boat didn’t like bridges – they’d take off for lower cabin. It must have been the shadow.

  18. Wayne Job says:

    Some three years ago my daughter gave this old hermit a cat for my birthday. This puss was from the local refuge for wayward cats and dogs. He was four years old and had three previous women owners that found him wanting. He was a good cat I found, terrified of kitchen bench,s and beds, thus was the training of these women. Touching this cat was problematic as he was ticklish and responded with death by a thousand cuts. He is not a small cat and his claws unsheathed are nigh on an inch long. The blood drawn on these women and the disfigurement to their person was most likely the reason for their taking him back to the shelter. Luckily I am made of sterner stuff, and when I was bleeding profusely from many holes, I gently let the cat smell my blood. The reaction was strange for he showed remorse. Slowly over time I overcame his ticklishness by touch and affection and he learned to not draw blood.
    Strangely, this cat talks, he communicates very well, he uses two terms in English, he say’s out, very loudly and very clearly.
    When I come home he say’s Hello, quietly but with two syllables.
    Many things he utters I do not understand, but from the attitude I get the drift. He is now a friend, more like a child friend one that play with and have fun. He plays more tricks on me than one could believe possible from a cat. Animals are far from dumb they have faith and truth far beyond what most of us have.

  19. Gnomish says:

    Hi, E.M.
    Just a note to reassure you that the links I post all work (in opera, for certain- it’s what i use myself and i do test before posting). Rapidshare is a free file host for large files – ones that may exceed allowance for email attachment, for example. Rapidshare may be responsible for no less than 25% of ALL internet file traffic, btw,while blogs are responsible for 100% of the pingback spam as their claim to fame.

    There is nothing on the net that you can’t get for free. Free file hosts have evolved to deal with freeloaders, so their advertising tricks are a bit more challenging than WUWT, for example, that just splatters random google ads in your face.

    Lol- as a long time netizen, I will once gently mention the resident population has a deep and abiding scorn for ‘old fux’ who willingly pay to have text files hosted on ancient but resuscitated BBS software, as every one of us has or has had dozens if not hundreds of forums and webpages and write HTML and never never ever paid or pay $ for our vanity press. Certainly none of us were ever as gauche as starbucks to panhandle in our own home.

    I won’t post links that are so challenging any more, though, per your request. It’s your place. Plus, working to give things away that are not happily received is not a sensible expenditure. I actually pay by the byte for my bandwidth, so it costs me to do it. I have plenty of pearls to go around but there’s no need to sprain anything flinging them. FYI, though, the lizard named Chocolate is the best there ever was. His owner wrote the first and only book on reptile training. The vid was worth a look for anybody interested in ethology or animal psychology as it is nowhere duplicated or even approached. You’d have enjoyed it and been a little more for having seen it.

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