Number of Animal Hybrids Identified in the Wild Increases

Most of us have heard of ligers and even pizzlie bears, but it seems as if the number of hybrids appearing in nature is increasing. It used to be the stuff of fantastical flights of fancy (calling Doctor Moreau), but more and more naturalists are identifying just what Ma Nature is capable of, and it’s simply fascinating! So, what other animals have found amore while searching for a mate? Here’s a rundown of the crossbreeding you can research online. Isn’t the internet great?

Crossbreeding in the Wild

Not to be confused with cross-species or interspecies, which is the transmission of an infectious pathogen, crossbreeding appears when two lost and lonely souls hook up in nature because they couldn’t find any member of their group to mate with. Many times the results were previously thought impossible, but yet here we are with pizzlies — a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly, super snakes — a cross between Burmese pythons and Indian pythons discovered in the Florida Everglades, and even a rose-breasted grosbeak crossed with a scarlet tanager recently seen flapping its wings in Pennsylvania in 2020.

bear in the wild
Photo: Pixabay/BondIII

Human Intervention

Humans have been behind several crossbreeding events throughout history beyond cats, dogs, rabbits, and other small, furry creatures. For instance, a mule is a result of crossing a male donkey and a female horse. A hinny, on the other hand, is the offspring of a female donkey (a jenny) and a male horse. This particular crossbreeding has been going on for thousands of years, but it’s believed people had more to do with this in western Asia than happenstance. There’s also beefalo — a cross between a buffalo and a cow, and myriad other livestock that have been crossed on purpose.

Aquatic Crossbreeds?!

Wholphins have been born in captivity and have also been reported in the wild. That’s a cross between a whale and a dolphin, which is said to be exceedingly rare but it happens. They’re known as cetacean hybrids, and they reportedly have much shorter lifespans. There are at least 20 reports of various species of dolphins and whales producing hybrids to date. In 2019, scientists were able to prove for the first time that narwhals sometimes hybridize with beluga whales, resulting in what’s called a narluga.

baby whalpon
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mark Interrante

More Crossbreeds

According to NatGeo, “There are also documented cases of hybridization between timber rattlesnakes and western diamondback rattlesnakes, Cuban and American crocodiles, Russian sturgeon and American paddlefish, cutthroat trout and rainbow trout, as well as in various insects, such as ants, bees, wasps, and termites.” Birds and butterflies are considered prolific crossbreeders, too.

Science & Nature

Scientists say that while hybrids seem unusual, it’s likely that many are quite common. It’s nature’s way of diversifying, unlike animals in captivity that have produced the above-mentioned ligers — a cross between a male lion and a female tiger, and hybrids like the zorse — resulting from a male zebra and a female horse, or a cama — a hybrid between a male dromedary camel and a female llama. Some scientists believe that certain hybrids may become even more common in the future, such as the spotted skunk. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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