In a group of animals (usually a litter of animals born in multiple births), a runt is a member which is significantly smaller or weaker than the others. Owing to its small size, a runt in a litter faces obvious disadvantage, including difficulties in competing with its siblings for survival and possible rejection by its mother. Therefore, in the wild, a runt is less likely to survive infancy.
Even among domestic animals, runts often face rejection. They may be placed under the direct care of an experienced animal breeder, although the animal's size and weakness coupled with the lack of natural parental care make this difficult. Some tamed animals are the result of reared runts.
Despite popular belief, not all litters have runts. All animals in a litter will naturally vary slightly in size and weight, but the smallest should not be considered a "runt" if it is healthy and close in weight to its littermates. It may be perfectly capable of competing with its siblings for nutrition and other resources. A runt is specifically an animal who suffered in utero from deprivation of nutrients by comparison to its siblings, or from a genetic defect, and thus is born underdeveloped or less fit than expected.
In popular culture
- Wilbur, the pig from Charlotte's Web, is the runt of his litter.
- Orson, the pig in Jim Davis' U.S. Acres is a runt who was bullied by his normal siblings. The strip changed direction when he was moved to a different farm and settled in with a supporting cast of oddball animals.
- Shade the bat from Silverwing is a runt.
- Fiver from Watership Down is a runt.
- Clifford the Big Red Dog was born a runt, but inexplicably began to grow explosively until he became 25 feet tall. The narratives of many Clifford stories work on the advantages and disadvantages of his colossal size.
- Goliath II, in the Disney film of the same name, was a runt elephant. Hardly bigger than a mouse, he was an embarrassment to his father, Goliath I, who was a giant, and resented by the other elephants of the pack who had to avoid stepping on him. He redeemed himself when he proved to be unafraid of a mouse.
- Ruth, the hero Pernese dragonnet from Anne McCaffrey's novel The White Dragon, is a runt whose egg is smaller and has a harder shell than all others in the clutch. He would have died save for the intervention of young Jaxom.
- Jock was the runt of a litter of Staffordshire Bull Terriers who was saved from drowning by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, who later wrote about his life with the dog in Jock of the Bushveld.
- Cadpig, a female Dalmatian puppy in Dodie Smith's children's novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, is the runt of her litter. Thought at first to be stillborn, she is revived by Mr. Dearly. (In the animated Disney film, the scene where she is revived is kept, but she is otherwise unnamed. And in the live-action Disney film, Cadpig is still a female aptly named "Two-Tone". The animated television series, however, does include Cadpig, though she is a separate character from Lucky.
- Babe, the eponymous piglet hero of Dick King-Smith's book (and the popular film based on the novel), is a runt. In fact, he was chosen for the competition at which Farmer Hoggett won him essentially because he was a runt - his runt status therefore saving his life and shaping his destiny.
- Scourge from the Warriors book series was a runt.
- The title character from the novel Runt, as the name implies, is the smallest of his wolf litter.
- The dire wolf Ghost in HBO's adaptation of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series was the runt of his litter of six pups, as well as an albino. In the book he grows to be the biggest of the six.
- Seabiscuit, a famous race horse, was a runt who triumphed over larger horses. Seabiscuit's story is chronicled in an eponymous book, and a movie based on that book.
- Little Ann from Where The Red Fern Grows was the runt of her litter as well.
- Runt, an omega wolf from Alpha and Omega series, is a runt among his pack and family.
- Daggie Dogfoot from Pigs Might Fly by Dick King Smith was the runt of his litter, and it was because he was born a runt he was taken away and came back. He later learns to swim and then saves his pig herd from a flood.
- Patchi, the main character from Walking with Dinosaurs, is the runt of his pachyrhinosaurs litter.
- Arlo, the main character from The Good Dinosaur, is the runt of his siblings, but born from a big egg.
- Rex, the title character of Rex the Runt, is a runt.
- Chief, the main character from Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs, is the runt of his litter.
- Mr. Peanutbutter, a main character from BoJack Horseman, is one of the runts from his litter. His brother, Captain Peanutbutter, tells Mr. Peanutbutter that he is his favorite runt of the litter.
- Bhoot, the wolf cub of the 2018 movie. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, is the runt of the Akela pack. He becomes Mowgli's best friend.
Runt as a name
- An early career moniker (ca. 1970) for Todd Rundgren, his band, and the title of his/their eponymously named first album, all three.