Good News, Honey – The Rabbit Died!

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Did you know that up until about a hundred years ago, there was no reliable test for pregnancy?  If, after engaging in biological activity which could result in pregnancy, a woman experienced morning sickness and missed her period, those were the only clues she had for the first 2 or 3 months.

It wasn’t until about 1925 that medical researchers discovered a hormone that was present only in pregnant women. They named it human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. Once this hormone was discovered, researchers needed a way to test women for the presence or absence of this hormone.

The earliest pregnancy tests involved the use of a bunny, or sometimes a mouse or rat, or even a frog. Urine from a pregnant woman injected into a sexually immature female animal would result in ovulation.

Now here comes the part I warned you about – the bunny would have to sacrifice her life for the sake of prognostication. The test involved an autopsy to examine the bunny’s ovaries to determine if the human woman was pregnant.

The expression “The rabbit died!” became synonymous with “Honey, we’re pregnant!” even though this was in fact a misnomer. The popular myth was that if the rabbit died, this would be an indication that the woman was pregnant. In the real test, all of the rabbits died, with a little help from the technician running the test, so that the ovaries could be examined under a microscope. 

Fortunately for bunny lovers everywhere, the rabbit test did not catch on as standard procedure, as it was only about 70% accurate, and most family physicians did not keep a supply of bunnies on hand.

The use of the expression, “The rabbit died” did catch on, despite the medical inaccuracy. Author Teresa Bloomingdale had a best seller entitled “I Should Have Seen it Coming When The Rabbit Died!” And who can forget the M*A*S*H episode where Radar is asked to donate his pet bunny for a pregnancy test on Margaret. Radar gladly offers Fluffy’s help until Hawkeye informs him that the rabbit would have to be killed.  Poor Radar is torn between his desire to help the major and his love for all animalkind. He finally comes up with a compromise: Margaret could have Fluffy’s ovaries if Hawkeye could surgically remove them, thus preserving the rabbit’s life. A bonus is that now Radar can put both of his pet bunnies in the same cage without them multiplying like rabbits.

So your Easter bunnies are safe, except for the chocolate ones.


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