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  • Writer's pictureFrank DiGiovanni

Cute and fuzzy, as promised

Updated: Jan 2

As promised, it’s time to get fluffy and fuzzy. Over the course of a few posts, we’re going to introduce you do the various animals here at the Science Museum of Long Island and hopefully provide you with some insight into the incredible animals that call SMLI home.

Romeo, the English Lop rabbit exploring the first floor of SMLI. Image courtesy of author.

So let’s start with the fuzzy guy to the right, Romeo, the English Lop. Clearly you can see Romeo is a rabbit but is considered a “fancy” breed because it is not a naturally occurring rabbit. Rather the breed was created in the 1900s by a process called “selective breeding”. This is where animals with certain traits (like really long ears) are bread with another breed of that same species with another desired trait, like size, to create a new breed. (This type of breeding is how we get dogs like Labradoodles.) Romeo demonstrates the characteristic long ears; English Lops’ ears can grow to be up to 32” long (from end to end)! Adult English Lops are often referred to as the "dogs of the rabbit world" owing to their habit of following their owners around. They are known to be kind of lazy but they are also outgoing, curious and friendly. Romeo (and his brother Oswald, who was too shy to have his picture taken) live up to this generalization with a very loving, playful and curious disposition, often following their caretakers or visitors around.

Like all rabbits, they are strictly herbivorous and contrary to popular belief (and Bugs Bunny cartoons), rabbits would rather eat the leafy tops of a carrot than a carrot itself... But let's face it, he'll go to town on a carrot if you let him! Carrots have lots of sugar in them and are only given as a treat. Rabbits belong to the family Leporidae and are part of a group of animals scientifically known as a "Lagomorph". With powerful and strong legs, rabbits are quick and agile runners and can deliver a powerful blow with their hind legs to a predator or rival. In the case of Romeo and Oswald, their ears can be a bit of a concern because they can get ear infections and a buildup of wax, their toenails can even scratch their ears! They're big, fluffy, curious and make a great pet if you can put the time and effort into loving one of these balls of floof.

Update: 2022 saw both Romeo and Oswald cross the rainbow bridge. They were wonderful examples of their species and breed of rabbit and ones I personally, will miss working with. While they can never be replaced, our latest rabbit, Muffin, is another example of these lagomorphs and their place in the world. She is a domestic rabbit, with much smaller (more typical) sized ears; she's brings all the floof and humor of rabbits.

Romeo and Oswald, we thank you for your service as ambassador animals and appreciate all you did in the name of education. Rest in Peace, bunnies ='(

Linus and Lucy cuddling in a tube. Image courtesy of author.

The other cuteness today revolves around two of my favorite animals here at SMLI. These two adorable, sleepy fluff balls (at left) are ferrets: Linus and Lucy, brother and sister. A member of the weasel family, it is estimated that they have been domesticated for over 2,000 years! Wickedly intelligent, friendly and social, these crepuscular (active mostly at dawn and dusk) mammals can live up to 5-7 years but the oldest was known to have lived to 14 years of age! Because of this social nature, when adopting, it is highly recommended to adopt two so they don’t get lonely. If you’ve ever had a cat or known someone who does, you know they like to sleep, a LOT. This sleepy nature is something the ferrets share, sleeping up to 20 hours a day! But when they’re awake, they are “go” non-stop! Thankfully they don’t need much to keep them entertained, a cardboard box or plastic tube (like above), a pant leg (with or without your legs in them), a cat toy or even just playing with them will keep them happily. Get them really excited and riled up and you might see them do their “weasel war dance” where they’re jumping around, hopping sideways, leaping here and there and occasionally, bumping into things. Want a laugh? Look up ferret videos and you’ll get a good laugh… However there is a smelly side to them.

Like mustelids (weasels, badgers, otters, ferrets, martens, minks, and wolverines, among others), ferrets have scent glands near their rear end which give them a very particular smell. The good thing is that you can make the smell less potent but it never goes away. A bath once or twice a month (with mild soap) will help keep them smelling their “best”. These glands can also be removed by surgery, but always confer with your veterinarian before making a decision like this.

The word “ferret” means “tiny thief” and the name is fitting as they are known to take and hoard objects of their liking. Car keys, kids’ toys, pots and pans. If they are given the chance to, they’ll take it. They are also incredibly flexible; this allows them to get into small spaces and even fold themselves in half. This ability to get into small spaces allows them to hunt, as they are known as “obligate carnivores”, which means their diet requires proteins that are only found in meat. However pet ferrets can have pellet food that is high in the protein they require to feed their high metabolism. Some owners even give their ferrets live prey like mice!

Once again, catching some Zzzs. Image courtesy of author.

They do better in a large cage when you have them as pets, 18” x 18” x 30” inches and have two or more levels with stairs or ramps they can climb. And you can even put a litter box in there, because they can be trained to use it. Like any animal, they should be seen by a veterinarian once a year because they are susceptible to various things like heart disease. Just make sure that you do your research before you consider adopting one of these fuzzy slinkies. Some cities, states and countries have made owning them illegal; Washington D.C., New York City, the countries of New Zealand and Australia are examples where they’re not allowed.

Update: 2020 was a rough year for many of us, here at SMLI was no different. Not only were we dealt the blow of Charlie the hedgehog death but sadly, Linus passed away suddenly late in the year; this post was written long before his untimely and sudden passing. The best part about animals is the bond that we make with them and the love we share with them. The worst part about pets is knowing that ultimately, we will almost-certainly outlive them. We do our best to give them the best life they deserve and give them all the love we can as we know the love goes both ways.

Thank you Linus, you were a wonderfully silly ambassador for your species. You were loving, curious and great fun. I miss you, Lucy misses you, anyone who knew you, misses you, little buddy. Rest in Peace Linus.

Remember that if you and your family are considering a pet of any kind, to do your research. Find reputable breeders, talk to a veterinarian or people who have experience with the type of animal you’re curious to bring into your life. Not all of the characteristics described here are seen by ALL animals of the species; like humans, each animal is a unique individual.

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