We will begin with a little Genetics lesson, nothing too dry of course as we will relate it to our furry little friends. Then we will move onto styling those wild manes!
Lionhead ‘Mendelian’ Genetics
Back in the day, circa early 19th century, society had no idea how (or why) the offspring of one species looked very much like the parents of said species. In other words, why do you look like a combination of your parents? Why do your children (if you have any, of course) look like a combination of you and your spouse? And the million dollar question, why do Lionhead Rabbits look like their Lionhead parents? Today if we ask ourselves that question the answer may seem obvious. Back in the 19th century, however, this was one of those mysterious natural phenomena that people could only speculate upon.
It was Gregor Mendel, a scientist as well as a monk, who discovered how traits are passed down from generation to generation during the mid 19th century. He performed many well-documented experiments on crossing plants with different physical traits, in particular the pea plant. For example, crossing a pea plant with wrinkled yellow peas with another pea plant that produces smooth green peas and then studying the offspring’s traits. He concluded that physical traits were passed down by the parents to the offspring and that different ratios of traits will arise depending on previous generations. Ofcourse, I’m simplifying this by many orders of magnitude but it is the basic understanding.
It is imperative for the typical Lionhead Rabbit breeder of today to be fully aware of Mendelian genetics in order to preserve and amplify that lovely lion mane.
The Lion head Rabbit’s Lion Mane
The layer of long hair that appears around the Lionhead’s nape is a mutation in the genetic coding. The DNA that is passed down to egg and sperm cells from the parents are specific instructions for the development of the offspring. During a mutation a mistake in the developmental instructions arises. Instead of instructing the growth of the Lionhead baby bunnies to grow uniform length of hair there are specific instructions towards longer hair around the neck only. A mutation is a ‘mistake’ in the genetic code and often the mistake is recessive. A recessive mutation means that the mistake in the DNA coding is easily corrected by other instructional DNA. Interestingly enough, the mutation involved in the Lionhead’s mane is not recessive but a dominant mutation. Dominance means that the mistake is not easily corrected and will trump the correctional mechanism involved in development. The dominant nature of the mane is probably why it has sustained through so many years of breeding and it helps rabbit breeders amplify the trait.
Different Mane types
The Lionhead bunny comes in different colors as well as different mane types. The convention among rabbit breeders is to designate the mutational dominant gene producing the mane with a capital ‘M.’ Thus, the same gene carrying no mutation is designated lowercase ‘m.’ A gene is a location on a chromosome that specifies the instructions for the physical trait and a chromosome is a long coil of DNA. Since DNA is passed to offspring from both the female and male parents there are three possibilities in the offspring’s genes; M-M, M-m, and m-m.
The bunnies that inherit only one dominant mutational gene are the M-m type and will produce a single mane. These Lionhead baby bunnies can be easily spotted because they sport a layer of longer hair only at the neck. The lion head rabbits with two inherited mutational genes are M-M and will produce a double mane. These can be differentiated by observing that the layer of longer hair covers not only around the neck but shoulders and parts of the chest as well. Those bunnies that inherit m-m will produce no mane and are difficult to identify unless you are the breeder and know that they were produced by lionhead parents.
An Example of a Single-Maned Rabbit
An Example of a Double-Maned Rabbit
Stay tuned for the next article on styling tips!