In the wild, when two animals from the same species mate, their offspring inherits 50% of its genes from each parent. This genetic principle is what makes us look like a mixture of both of our parents.
A hybrid species occurs when two different species mate— giving the offspring 50% of the genetic data from both parent species. We rounded up a list of the most intriguing hybrid animals that you never knew existed.
Liger cub is a crossbreed between a male lion and female tiger
This sassy liger cub is two-and-a-half months old. The young cat is a crossbreed between a lion and a tigress.
Ligers, the offspring of a male lion and a female tiger, are characteristically massive and golden-colored with a spotted face and pale striping along the back. Some males are able to grow a half-mane.
Ligers’ genetics allow them to grow exponentially
The gigantic cat averages around 1000lbs, standing nearly 12 feet tall on its hind legs. Ligers grow thicker bones and longer teeth than both their parent species (lions and tigers).
In the wild, female lions possess the gene responsible for limiting growth but in tigers, it’s the male who carries the gene. As a result, ligers do not receive a copy of the gene from either parent.
Ligers suffer from gigantism
Consequently, these already big cats suffer from gigantism. By the time a liger is fully grown, it is about double the size of an adult Siberian tiger— making it the largest cat on the planet.
An average adult liger stands about 4.5 ft tall at the shoulder and 6 ft tall at the tips of the ears. To sustain their huge bodies, ligers require approximately 25 lbs of meat per day (double that of a regular tiger in captivity).
A Jaglion is a hybrid between a male jaguar a female lion
A jaglion is the offspring between a male jaguar and a lioness. Most jaglions’ base coat matches the parent lion’s caramel color but the fur features the signature spots of a jaguar.
The breed is extremely rare but breeding between the species has occurred unintentionally among big cats in captivity.
Two Jaglions were born in captivity in Toronto after an accidental breeding
In 2006, two jaglions were born in captivity at the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary in Barrie, Ontario, Canada.
Jahzara (female, top) and Tsunami (male, below) were born after an unintended mating between a black jaguar named Diablo and a lioness named Lola who had been raised together since birth and were inseparable. In 2022, the sibling cats celebrated their 16th birthday.
Most hybrid species are infertile
Most hybrid species are infertile because of the genetic consequences of cross-species breeding. This means that they are not able to reproduce offspring on their own and will not raise young.
For this reason, cross-breeding of species is generally frowned upon in the animal husbandry community because it disrupts the natural breeding process and potentially impacts future generations of already endangered species.
Hybrid offspring like these litigons have genetic faults
In some rare cases, hybrid breeds are able to reproduce, however, their offspring will have difficulties growing up. They are more likely to suffer from genetic disorders, growth issues, and infertility.
These six-month-old litigon cubs are hybrids between a male African lion and a female tigon (which is a cross between a male tiger and lioness).
A male tigon
Tigons have the same parents as ligers (lions and tigers) but with the genders flipped around— meaning that the parent species are a male tiger and a lioness.
The tigon’s body is usually a light tan color with blonde stripes and a white underbelly. Tigons are not a product of natural breeding and only exist in captivity breeding programs. They are usually sterile and unable to reproduce.
Zebroids are crosses between donkeys and other equine animals
Zebroids are hybrid crosses between zebras and other members of the equine family including horses and donkeys. This species is not exactly rare, but it is less common for the mother to be from the zebra family.
In most zebroids, the head and body resemble a donkey and the legs and underside are marked by black zebra stripes.
Zonkies have personality traits from both parents
Zebroids, like the zonkey pictured above, carry both physical and personality traits from both of their parents.
Based on what people know about the handful of zonkies in the world, the rare creatures are excitable with distinct personalities. They tend to look more like a donkey with the distinct stripes and wild nature of a zebra.
Zebroids are usually infertile
Sometimes when zebras and horses are kept in captivity together accidental breeding can take place, but allowing this type of breeding to occur is generally frowned upon in the zoo-keeping community.
This is because zebroids are usually infertile due to an odd number of chromosomes in their DNA which disrupts a key process in reproduction. It’s most likely they will never be able to bear young, although they can still live a long and healthy life.
The species wouldn’t fare well in wild herds
This zebroid hybrid is a cross between a male zebra and a female horse. The animal looks more like the mother’s species with identifiable stripes from the father’s species.
This particular zebroid lives at the Mount Kenya animal orphanage in Kenya. It’s not likely that these creatures would be able to survive outside of captivity.
A goat and sheep can reproduce in rare circumstances
When goats and sheep are kept in captivity together, like the ones at this petting zoo, there is the possibility that the two species can breed. However, it is extremely rare.
Sheep and goats are popularly boarded together in the same pastures around the world but it’s highly unlikely they will mate.
Geep are often stillborn
Because of the genetic differences between goats and sheep, the offspring of are usually stillborn. In some very rare cases, the geep hybrid is born alive and grows for a few years.
However, they are likely to have much shorter lifespans and suffer from severe health complications, if they survive their own birth.
Some rare geep hybrids have lived longer lives
There are about 12 documented cases of geep who have survived the gestation period, and birth, and managed to live a few happy years on a farm or in a petting zoo.
Either way, it’s more likely to be a stressful pregnancy on the mother species and is generally not encouraged among livestock owners.
Grolar bears exist!
The rare hybrid species of a polar bear and a grizzly bear has been documented both in captivity and in the wild.
Sometimes called grolar bears, pizzly bears, these massive cappuccino-colored bears inherit traits from both parent species. They are exceptional swimmers, fishers, and predators in their natural environment.
Grolar bears are hybrids that can occur naturally in the wild
There have been at least a dozen reported sightings of grolar bears in the wild in areas where their habitats overlap but the first confirmed case of a bear hybrid happened in 2006.
A Canadian hunter killed a polar bear that had very unusual characteristics like that of a grizzly bear. DNA testing confirmed that the bear was in fact a wild hybrid species.
The beefalo is massive
This gigantic cattle hybrid breed results from a buffalo mating with an average cow. Cattle and buffalo rarely interbreed but in some rare instances, it has happened on farms and ranches.
Depending on the gender of the beefalo, it will either sport massive horns like a bull or it may have a flat head similar to a heifer.
A discovery of a new Jamaican fruit bat excited researchers
Interspecies breeding doesn’t always result in offspring that are infertile, like many of the animals already listed.
A rare species of fruit bat was discovered in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean and the DNA reveals the bat is a descendant of three different species. Scientists were shocked to discover the bat’s original ancestors were a combination of three different bat species.
One ancestor species remains unknkown
However, researchers were only able two identify two out of three of the parent bat species. The third species that contributed to the genetics of this new bat has either gone extinct or has not yet been discovered yet.
Teams continue to discover new bat species but hybrids of already existing bats are extremely rare.
Coywolfs happen when coyotes and wolves sometimes breed in the wild
Coyotes and wolves are not known to breed often but it has happened both in the wild and in captivity or at animal sanctuaries.
The informal term for the breed is “coywolf” and they are the offspring of a coyote and a grey wolf or eastern wolf. Hybrids of any combination tend to be larger than coyotes but smaller than wolves.
The species share chromosomes
The coywolf is one of the most common hybridization species that occurs naturally as the species share a total of 78 chromosomes.
They have been documented in the wild, especially in eastern Ontario, Canada which is considered one of the biggest natural hybridization zones in North America thanks to this species.
Savannah cats are hybrids of domestic cats and servals
A Savannah cat is the offspring of a domestic cat and a serval. Servals are medium-sized, large-eared wild cats native to Africa.
The Savannah cats’ tall body and slim build make them appear larger in size despite having lower body weights than most cats. Their size will depend on gender and the generation of the animal (meaning how far removed it is from its wild cat ancestor).
Savannah cats are bred in captivity
Savannah cats have been bred in captivity for decades since the early 90s and sold as luxury pets. However, depending on how far removed the cat is from its Serval cat parent or grandparent, they will possess the serval’s exotic traits and personality.
The cats have recently become more famous through pop star Bieber since he bought two Savannah cats and set up their own Instagram account.
Wholphins only exist in captivity
A wholphin is a name given to a rare cross breed between a male false killer whale and a female bottlenose dolphin.
The only documented examples of the species have existed in captivity and most did not live longer than three years. They inherit the playful characteristics of a dolphin but like all cetaceans, they don’t fare well in captivity.
One wholphin has lived a long life in captivity
One rare example of a wholphin that has lived a long and healthy life in captivity is the Hawaiian hybrid Kekaimalu.
She was born at Sea Life Park in Hawaii on May 15, 1985, and surprised her keepers when she gave birth at a young age but her calf died after only a few days.
A hinny is a hybrid between a female donkey and a male horse
This beautiful hinny is a hybrid between a female donkey (a jenny) and a male horse (a stallion). Unlike an average mule, the hinny has a smaller stature, shorter ears, stronger legs, and a thicker mane and tail.
The head of a hinny also resembles more of a horse than a donkey but they inherit personality traits from both parent species.
A cama is a hybrid between a llama and a camel
A cama is an offspring from breeding between a male camel and a female llama. The species has only been produced via artificial insemination at the Camel Reproduction Centre in Dubai.
The goal was to create a breed of animal that was capable of higher wool production than a llama but with the size, strength, and cooperative temperament of a camel.
Dzos are common farm animals in parts of Tibet and Mongolia
The dzo is a hybrid animal that is the offspring of domestic cattle and a wild yak, an English term for the species is “yattle” stemming from the words yak and cattle.
Female animals of this species are fertile while male animals are sterile. They are both larger and stronger than a regular yak.
The mulard duck
The mulard (or moulard) is a hybrid bird species that is created when two different breeds of generic duck interbreed: the Muscovy duck and the domestic duck (aka the wild mallard).
American Pekins are the duck breed most commonly used due to their high meat production. It is possible to produce mulards naturally but farmers have better success with artificial insemination.