15 Scary Fun Facts About Bunnicula

istock (background) / amazon (cover)
istock (background) / amazon (cover)

Since it was first published in April 1979, the beloved children's classic Bunnicula—about a vampire bunny who sucks veggies dry, turning them white, and the cat and dog who try to expose him—has sold more than 8 million copies, won a number of awards, and spawned a couple of cartoons. Here are a few things you might not have known about the book.

1. James Howe was a struggling actor when he came up with the idea for Bunnicula.

“I was doing what a lot of actors do and staying up too late and watching movies on TV,” Howe told Book Page in 2011. “It was watching all those bad vampire movies in the '70s that led to the idea of Bunnicula.” Howe told Scholastic that many of the movies were more silly than scary. “I don't remember the moment when the character Bunnicula came into my head,” he said. “I suspect it came from asking the question, what's the silliest, least likely vampire I can imagine?”

2. His mother-in-law suggested writing a book about Bunnicula.

After he came up with the character he called “Count Bunnicula,” Howe made “a little greeting card … of a vampire rabbit,” he told Teaching Books—but he never thought about writing a book featuring the character.

“I was not writing then—even though I always loved to write, I wasn’t thinking of it as my work,” he told NPR. “It was actually [my wife] Debbie’s mother who said, ‘That would make a great character for a children’s book. Why don’t you two try that?”

So one night after dinner, just for fun, the Howes started writing the book that would become Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery. “One of us would hold the pad of paper and essentially be secretary,” Howe said. “We wrote that book completely out loud—we told the story; one of us would begin a sentence, and the other one might jump in and finish the sentence.”

3. The opening sentence of Bunnicula never changed.

“The final, published story is essentially there in the first draft, just as we told it,” Howe told Teaching Books. “In fact, it only took maybe three or four drafts, and mostly that was fixing and polishing.” From the time the Howes sat down to write until the time Bunnicula was published, the very first sentence, spoken by Harold the dog—“I shall never forget the first time I laid these now tired old eyes on our visitor”—never changed.

4. Debbie died before Bunnicula was published.

Several months into writing Bunnicula, Debbie was diagnosed with cancer. At first, Howe said, they put the book aside. “We had other things to deal with,” he told Teaching Books. “But, after a few months, we needed to laugh. We needed something to put our minds to that wasn't so serious and difficult, and we went back to writing Bunnicula. Writing that book really made us laugh; it served the greater purpose of easing the pain and lifting our spirits.”

Sadly, Debbie wouldn’t live to see the book in print. She passed away in June 1978 at 31; Bunnicula was published the next year.

5. The most challenging Bunnicula illustration for artist Alan Daniel was the first one.

When illustrator Alan Daniel—who has created art for books like Fireside Al’s Treasury of Christmas Stories, Get Out of Bed!, and The Best Figure Skater in the Whole Wide World—received the Bunnicula manuscript from his agent in 1978, “I laughed all the way through it,” he told Mental Floss in an email, “and could hardly wait to get to work.” When he got down to drawing, “I would be so deeply into what I was doing that my children would come into my studio and see the expression of the character I was drawing reflected in my face.”

He received no art direction. “All the information on the characters is implicit in the text, which I read carefully several times,” he said. So when choosing which scenes to illustrate, Daniel looked for dynamic situations. “I want to show all the characters and make sure the pictures are well placed throughout—not bunched up,” he said. “The story is told from the animals’ point of view so the illustrations are also from that POV. The family is part of the animals’ world so they need to be there, but they only appear twice.”

The most challenging illustration to create, he said, was the first major one: “It is a dark and stormy night so the lighting is tricky. Bunnicula is just a pair of eyes within a dark bundle. A lot had to be established in that illustration. I wanted to present a world that was real so the fantastical elements of the text could play against it.”

Daniel used three different pencils to create the illustrations. An HB graphite pencil got the most use. A 2H pencil “let me get a grayer look for things I wanted to recede,” Daniel said, while “2B gave me real darks. Everything was built up with fine lines except the chair for which I used the texture of the illustration board. Having a full-color cover was a challenge because I wanted to keep the look of the inside pictures. I used muted watercolor over pencil.”

He said that even decades years after the initial publication, “[people] come and tell me stories about their discovery of the book.”

6. Acceptance was an accidental theme of the first Bunnicula book.

“Writers are drawn to themes that we write about, but we don't necessarily know what they are,” Howe told Teaching Tolerance magazine in 2006. Howe didn’t know what his theme was until a fourth grade student wrote to him after Bunnicula was published. “In the book, a strange rabbit is suspected of being a vegetarian vampire after he comes into the home of, in my view, a typical suburban family,” he said. “This girl wrote, ‘I learned from this book to be accepting of someone who's different. Harold just accepted Bunnicula. He said, He's different. So what? Chester was suspicious of him and wanted to destroy him.’ There it was. There was my theme.”

Howe also related this story to Scholastic, saying that acceptance has “become a theme in much of my work and it's interesting that it might have unintentionally been a theme in my first book.”

7. The first Bunnicula sequel was inspired by Agatha Christie ...

When it came time to write a sequel to Bunnicula, Howe had a bit of trouble. He told Scholastic that, with his initial sequel idea: “I felt I was rewriting Bunnicula itself, so I knew I needed to make a big change somehow. I asked myself where else could animals go to have an adventure if they didn't stay at home? One of the first thoughts I had was a boarding kennel. As soon as I thought of a boarding kennel, I thought of the mysteries of Agatha Christie, where often a group of strangers come together in a holiday setting, one of the guests is murdered and the other guests become suspects. That gave me my basic plot structure for Howliday Inn.” It was published in 1982.

The initial idea he’d been trying to write would become the second sequel, The Celery Stalks at Midnight (1983), which was inspired by a friend who wondered if the vegetables Bunnicula drained also became vampires. There were four other Bunnicula sequels: Nighty Nightmare (1987), Return to Howliday Inn (1992), Bunnicula Strikes Again! (1999), and Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow (2006).

8. … But there's some Sherlock Holmes in the Bunnicula books, too.

“As much as I was influenced by vampire movies in writing them, I was also influenced by watching a lot of Sherlock Holmes movies,” Howe told Teaching Books. “It took me a while to realize this, but Chester is Sherlock Holmes and Harold is Watson, and they are kind of bumbling detectives who try to figure things out.”

9. Bunnicula was adapted into two musicals ...

Jon Klein adapted the book into a musical for Seattle Children’s Theater in 1996; music was composed by Chris Jeffries. Since its debut, Bunnicula the Musical has been performed around the country. Another musical called Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Musical Mystery featured a book by Tony nominee Charles Busch, with music by Sam Davis and lyrics by Mark Waldrop. It played off-Broadway in 2013.

10. … And an animated Bunnicula special.

Bunnicula: The Vampire Rabbit debuted in 1982 as part of ABC’s Weekend Specials. The 23-minute film was directed by Charles A. Nichols, who had previously served as animation director on series like Scooby Doo, Where Are You! and Josie and the Pussycats; he would go on to direct episodes of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

11. There were other Bunnicula books, too.

Bunnicula spawned two spin-off series: Tales from the House of Bunnicula, whose books were narrated by dachshund puppy Howie (he made his debut in Howliday Inn), and six oversized picture books called Harold & Chester. There was an activity book, written by Howe and illustrated by Alan Daniel, which contained stickers, puzzles, riddles, and word games; it was published in 1993. Bunnicula's Frightfully Fabulous Factoids: A Book to Entertain Your Brain! was published in 1999, and in 2005, Bunnicula and Friends—simplified versions of the books for early readers—debuted.

12. Howe's favorite Bunnicula character was Harold.

When Scholastic asked Howe who his favorite character was, he chose Bunnicula's canine narrator. “I would have to say Harold because I'm closest to him since I write as him,” he said. “But in the series I also really enjoy writing Howie.”

13. The Monroe family never found out about Bunnicula.

“They remain in the dark the whole time,” Howe told NPR. “They just think their pets act very strangely at times, as we all do.”

14. Bill Hader was a big Bunnicula fan.

“The first series I was obsessed with was James Howe’s Bunnicula,” Hader told The New York Times. “I read all of those.”

15. There's another cartoon based on the Bunnicula book.

Bunnicula, which debuted on the Cartoon Network and Boomerang in 2016, does away with the Monroes and Howie completely. Instead, the show follows a girl named Mina and her two pets, Chester (Sean Astin) and Harold (Brian Kimmet), who discover Bunnicula (Chris Kattan) after they move to an apartment in New Orleans, left to Mina’s dad by a mysterious aunt.

It’s different from the books, but Howe was apparently OK with the changes. “The only thing he really wanted was for us was to be true to the characters,” producer Jessica Borutski told TV Insider. “Bunnicula’s very different, but he wanted us to stay true to Chester and Harold and honor their personality types. That’s what we did.”

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Argentine Ants

A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
Marc Matteo, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A supercolony of invasive Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) stretches for 560 miles beneath California, from San Diego to San Francisco. The billions of Argentine ants are unlike other ants in many ways—and they are virtually indestructible. Along with their supercolonies in Europe, Japan, and Australia, L. humile’s global domination is rivaled only by that of human beings. Here’s what you should know about these prolific pests.

1. Argentine ant colonies are ruled by hundreds of queens.

Most ant colonies revolve around a single queen. Growing much larger than the worker drones, she is programmed to mate as quickly as possible, then to leave her nest of origin and establish a new one. In some species, a single queen can lay millions of eggs in a lifetime, producing an army of worker drones and future queens who will go off to build their own nests. But unlike most ants, Argentines are polygynous: Each nest contains multiple queens. In some, they can form up to 30 percent of the population.

2. Argentine ants move their nests frequently.

Nest types vary from ant species to ant species, but those who live in soil commonly dig tunnels and chambers deep into the earth that will protect the colony throughout the life of the queen. L. humile, though, is transient and ever shifting. Argentine ants frequently pack up their eggs and move the entire colony, queen and all, to a new nest, even when there is no apparent threat. Biologist Deborah Gordon told Ars Technica that the ants typically have 20 to 30 shallow nests at any one time, which can be built up in a matter of just weeks.

3. Argentine ants traveled the U.S. before settling down in California.

Argentine ants arrived in the United States from Northern Argentina in the late 19th century, when the first recorded Argentine ant was found in Louisiana in 1891. Researchers believe that the ants hitched a ride to North America in Argentinian shipments of coffee or sugar off-loaded at the Port of New Orleans. From there, they traveled—most likely by train—across the South and into California. Enticed by the Mediterranean climate, one similar to that of its original home in South America, the ants set up shop. By 1907, they’d displaced local native ants and begun their first steps towards total soil domination along 560 miles of California coastline.

4. California’s Argentine ants are more laid-back than their South American cousins.

In side-by-side comparisons of Argentine ants from their South American homeland and California, researchers have found that those from the West Coast are far more mellow than those from Argentina. In studies, it was typical for two ants from different nests to fight when placed in the same vial in Argentina, but in California, ants from different nests rarely fought, even when they were collected from locations several hundred miles apart.

A DNA study of ants from both locations in 2000 revealed a stark difference. In the ants from Argentina, microsatellites—short, uniquely patterned DNA sequences passed down from generation to generation—had more than twice as much variation as the microsatellites of the Californian ants. When two individuals from different nests in California were placed together, they recognized one another as family. The ants from Argentina didn’t, making them more likely to display territorial aggression.

The difference is rooted in the genetic bottleneck the ants encountered on their arrival to the Golden State over a century ago. According to biologist Neil D. Tsutsui, who conducted the DNA study, the ants in California today are all descendants of that founding colony. “It would be as if all of the people in the United States were descended from the Pilgrims who came here in 1620,” he told the Stanford Report in 2004. Instead of competing with one another, generation after generation has worked together to take out native ants and build an immense California colony.

5. Argentine ants protect other insects in exchange for sweet, sweet honeydew.

Argentine ants
Two Argentine ants share a tiny blob of honeydew.
Davefoc, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Argentine ants love to feed on sweet nectar, but flowers and suburban kitchens aren’t the only source of such desirable foodstuffs. Insects that feed on plant sap, like mealybugs, scales, and aphids, naturally excrete sugar-rich liquid “honeydew” from their butts. To secure a steady flow of the sticky-sweet substance, Argentine ants will fight off the predators of their insect chefs, including soldier beetles and midges. They’ll even relocate their honeydew producers to better food sources or microclimates to get the most they can out of their anal secretions.

6. The California Argetine ant supercolony is one-sixth the size of Southern Europe’s.

The California supercolony, which scientists have named the “Californian large,” is only the second-biggest conglomeration of Argentine ants in the world. The biggest colony is found along Southern Europe’s Mediterranean coast, where it stretches 3700 miles from northern Italy to the Atlantic coast of Spain. The ants, introduced around 80 years ago, now number in the billions. Smaller supercolonies also exist in Japan and Australia.

7. Argentine ants are second only to humans in their scale of world domination.

In 2009, researchers discovered that Argentine ants from three of the world’s largest supercolonies (Southern Europe, California, and Japan) are so closely related that they actually form a single mega-colony. The study, led by Eriki Sunamura from the University of Tokyo, found that when placed together, ants from the three supercolonies refused to fight. Instead, they rubbed antennae in greeting the way L. humile does when interacting with genetically-related individuals.

The researchers believe that the Argentine ant mega-colony isn’t just the largest insect colony ever identified; it rivals that of human colonization around the globe. Presenting their findings in the journal Insect Sociaux, they wrote, “the enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society.”

8. A mass execution of Argentine ant queens takes place every spring.

Each spring, just before mating season begins, worker ants go on a killing rampage and assassinate 90 percent of their queens. Entomologists aren’t sure exactly why the large-scale execution occurs, but one hypothesis, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology in 2001, suggests that it is a “spiteful behavior” to kill the queens that are less related, on average, to the workers.

In their study, researchers from the University of Lausanne hypothesized that Argentine ants are regularly separated from direct family members through free exchange among the nests. Before mating season begins each year, those that are genetically related band together to kill more distantly related queens. Doing so decreases the nest’s genetic diversity and allows it to be rebuilt with a queen who is directly related to the greatest majority of workers.

The study’s results were inconclusive and the question remained unanswered, yet researchers learned something unexpected in the process. Instead of finding genetic diversity among worker ants, those belonging to each nest were actually a homogenous population. Only the queens were genetic outliers with relatively few familial relationships in each nest.

9. Climate change is making Argentine ants more of a nuisance to humans.

Argentine ants thrive in a Mediterranean climate where winters are cool and wet and summers are warm and dry. When conditions are ideal, they largely keep to themselves, but when conditions are drought-like or extremely wet, the ants move indoors in search of more hospitable climes. Experts at survival, Argentine ants can find food or water that’s been left unguarded in just minutes.

With the climate crisis, conditions in California are becoming more extreme. Hot days, no longer relegated just to the summer months, are becoming more numerous and prolonged. Droughts are becoming more frequent. While these changes are unlikely to harm much of the California supercolony, they are likely to drive the residents of urban nests more frequently into people's homes, making the ants a major nuisance for residents from San Diego to San Francisco.

10. Argentine ants are almost impossible to eradicate.

Individual Argentine ants are easy enough to kill, but an Argentine ant colony is a different story. The California colony has no natural predators and, thanks to their high levels of cooperation and massive numbers, L. humile has effectively destroyed possible competitors and disrupted the ecological balance of native species in the process. Insecticides, which are unable to penetrate into the underground nests, aren’t particularly effective. And because the ants can pick up and move their entire nest so quickly, neither are household control measures such as ant bait. After just over a century in California, Argentine ants are now virtually invincible.