Photo: Wikipedia / https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liger#/media/File:ALiger.jpg
Liger. Photo by The cloudless sky.

We’ve seen many bizarre animal hybrids in popular culture. In movies, we have Sharktopus and Dinocroc, and in folklore, we have jackalopes and Jersey Devils. But peculiar animal hybrids don’t just exist in the land of make-believe. While you won’t see anything quite like a shark with tentacles or a goat with bat wings, biological hybrids can be just as fascinating as fictional hybrids.

From lions crossed with tigers to zebras crossed with donkeys, there are many amazing real-life animal hybrids. Here are some of our favorites…

Leopon

Image: Tumblr

The leopon is the offspring of a male leopard and a lioness. The head looks similar to a lion, with a partial mane, while the body looks more leopard-like. These animals are only bred in zoos, and would never occur in the wild.

Many cubs have been bred in Japan and Germany, but it’s rare for them to survive to adulthood. If they do, the animals are generally sterile. The most successful breeding program was at Koshien Hanshin Park in Japan, where 5 cubs (though sterile) did survive for a period of time.

Dzo

dzo
Image: Indrik Myneur

This bulky hybrid is a hybrid between domestic cattle and yak. These animals are larger and stronger than yak and cattle, at least those local to the region. They also seem to produce more milk and meat.

Males of this cross are sterile while females are still able to breed. “Dzo” particularly refers to males of this hybrid, while females are called “dzomo” or “zhom.”

Iron Age Pig or “Sanglochon”

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This unique animal is a cross between a wild boar and a domestic pig. They were originally bred to resemble pigs represented in ancient European prehistoric artwork of the Iron Age.

These pigs are raised mainly in Europe, and are much more aggressive and harder to handle than domestic pigs, as one would imagine.  This hybrid has been observed occurring naturally in Australia where escapee domestic pigs breed with wild boars.

Coywolf

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As you may suspect, coywolves are a combination of coyotes and gray wolves. These hybrids tend to be larger than coyotes, and show behaviors similar to each species.

Extensive hunting of wolves over 4 centuries decimated the population; this limited the options for suitable mates, so the animals had to search outside their species. It appears that they weren’t too selective – researchers have found domestic dog DNA in their genome, too!

Clymene dolphin

Clymene dolphins - Photo by Keith Mullin (NOAA)
Clymene dolphins. Photo by Keith Mullin (NOAA).

Clymene dolphins are another example of hybrid speciation. Endemic to the Atlantic Ocean, clymene dolphins are the result of breeding between spinner dolphins and striped dolphins.

Unlike most animal hybrids, which are the result of captive breeding, Clymene dolphins are natural hybrids. Humans have not played a role in their genesis, and they can breed normally.

Zebroid

Zorse by Christine und David Schmitt
A Zorse (Zebra + Horse). Photo by Christine und David Schmitt.

Zebroids are a variety of zebra hybrids, and these hybrids have dozens of different names.

A zebra stallion and a horse mare will produce a zorse or zebrula; a zebra stallion and a pony mare will produce a zony; and a zebra crossed with a donkey is often called a zonkey or zedonk, among other names.

Zeedonk Photo by sannse
A Zonkey (Zebra + Donkey). Photo by sannse.

Physically, zebroids resemble their non-zebra parents, but they generally inherit the zebra’s stripes on parts of their body, whether on the head, flanks, or legs.

Mentally, zebroids are more wild in nature. Unlike the domesticated horses, ponies, and donkeys, zebras are wild animals, and they pass down their renegade temperaments and aggression.

Catalina Macaw

Catalina Macaw - Photo by Arkansas Lad
Catalina macaw. Photo by Arkansas Lad.

In captivity, many bird hybrids exist, and the Catalina macaw is one of them. As a cross between a blue-and-yellow macaw and a scarlet macaw, the Catalina macaw possesses the color patterns of both parent species.

This beautiful parrot possesses the best qualities of both macaws. We like it!

Edible Frog

Edible frog - Rana_esculenta_on_Nymphaea - Photo by Grand-Duc, Wikipedia
Edible frog. Photo by Grand-Duc, Wikipedia.

The edible frog is one of three species of European water frog (along with Graf’s hybrid frog and the Italian edible frog) that is the result of a process called hybridogenesis. In this process, the hybrid species must mate with one of its parent species to reproduce, and half of the offspring are clones of the hybrid species.

In the case of the edible frog, which is the fertile offspring of a pool frog and a marsh frog, it must mate with either a pool frog or a marsh frog to produce more edible frogs.

Czechoslovakian Wolfdog

Czech Wolfdog-merrybell - Photo by Margo Peron
Czechoslovakian wolfdog. Photo by Margo Peron.

Czechoslovakian wolfdogs are the result of a scientific experiment first conducted in 1955. In Czechoslovakia, scientist Karel Hartl crossed a Carpathian wolf with a German Shepherd to create a breed of dog that could be used as military and police attack dogs.

The resulting hybrid, which contained both wolf and dog genes, proved difficult to train. However, much like the hybrid bengal cat, after four generations of decreasing the “wolf’s blood”, the Czechoslovakian wolfdog was ready for service.

Zubron/Beefalo

Zubron - hybrid of domestic cattle and european bison (wisent)
Zubron – hybrid of domestic cattle and European bison (wisent).

In 1847 in Poland, Leopold Walicki bred a cow with a European bison (wisent). This created a bovid known as a żubroń.

Later on, after World War I, Polish scientists bred the hardy, adaptable żubroń en masse as a cheap replacement for domestic cattle.

However, in the 1980s, their progress came to a halt due to economic difficulties and fear that żubrońs would breed with native wisents, causing genetic pollution.

Similarly, in 1880 in Canada, Col Samuel Bedson bred cows with American bison, creating another bovid hybrid known as a cattalo. When first created, cattalo were far from perfect, since male offspring were usually sterile. However, in 1965, a male hybrid bull was born, and this changed everything. Since that day, cattalos were rebranded as beefalos and sold to the general public as such.

Savannah Cat

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Savannah cats often have the ocelli markings of their serval ancestors on their ears.

Like the rest of the hybrids on this list so far, the Savannah cat is an artificial hybrid, originally created by humans. Savannah cats are a cross between a domestic cat and a serval, which is a species of wild cat native to sub-Saharan Africa.

A wild African serval.
A wild African serval.

Savannah cats are unusual among domestic cats because they are comparable to dogs in loyalty and behavior. In fact, they are quite sociable and can be trained to walk on a leash and play fetch.

Most Savannah cats are not afraid of water and will readily play or immerse themselves in it. They are the ultimate anti-cats.

Polar-Grizzly Bear Hybrid

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A pizzly.

This is the second (and last) hybrid on the list that occurs naturally in the wild.

When polar bears and grizzly bears mate, they produce hybrid offspring known as pizzly, prizzly, or grolar bears.

These bears possess traits of both of their parents, and they often have a mixture of white, brown, and black hair.

Physically, they are smaller than polar bears but larger than grizzlies, and their soles are partially covered in hair.

Mentally, they are more like polar bears stomping on toys and hurling them like polar bears stomping on ice and hurling prey.

Wholphin

Baby_wolphin by Mark Interrante
A baby wolphin. Photo by Mark Interrante.

A wholphin is a very rare cross between a false killer whale and a common bottlenose dolphin. The name suggests this hybrid is a mix of whale and dolphin, but the false killer whale is actually a species of oceanic dolphin as well. Purportedly, wholphins exist naturally in the wild, but so far, they’ve only been bred and documented in captivity.

Ligers and Tigons

Hercules the Liger. At 922 pounds (418.2 kilograms) and 11 feet (3.33 metres) in length and measuring 4 feet (1.25 metres ) tall at the shoulder, he is considered the world's largest living feline. Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/people/71539256@N00" target="_blank">Ali West</a>.
Hercules the Liger. At 922 pounds (418.2 kilograms) and 11 feet (3.33 metres) in length and measuring 4 feet (1.25 metres ) tall at the shoulder, he is considered the world’s largest living feline. Photo by Ali West.

Ligers and tigons are crosses between lions and tigers. Ligers are a cross between a male lion and a tigress, and tigons are a cross between male tigers and a lioness. Ligers look more like lions, and tigons look more like tigers.

Due to this union between the tiger, which is the largest and heaviest feline, and the lion, which is the second largest feline, ligers and tigons are also rather large. But, while tigons are the same size as regular tigers, ligers are much bigger than their parents.

In fact, the largest feline in the world is a liger named Hercules, who weighs 922 pounds (418.2 kilograms) is 11 feet (3.33 meters) long, and is 4 feet (1.25 meters) tall at the shoulder.

A pair of ligers. Photo by Hkandy.
A pair of ligers. Photo by Hkandy.

Unfortunately, once born, ligers and tigons have a tough road ahead. Like many other hybrids, they often die in the womb or prematurely, and if they do make it to adulthood, they are usually genetically or physically sterile and unable to reproduce.

They also suffer from genetic defects and diseases associated with both lions and tigers. For these reasons as well as the lack of conservation value and the threat to the mother tigress/lioness during birth, ligers and tigons are banned in many zoos and animal sanctuaries.

Bengal Cat

Bengal cat - Photo by Tyler T
Bengal cat. Photo by Tyler T.

Bengal cats are the result of breeding between domestic cats and Asian leopard cats. They were bred to evoke the feline denizens of the jungle. However, in order to make them as tame as regular domestic cats, they must be four generations removed from their wild leopard cat ancestors.

Unlike most cats, bengal cats love water. This is likely due to their leopard cat ancestor’s affinity for water.

Heliconius Butterflies

Heliconius_mimicry - Repeating Patterns of Mimicry, Meyer A, PLoS Biology, Vol. 4
Heliconius mimicry. Repeating Patterns of Mimicry, Meyer A, PLoS Biology, Vol. 4.

Heliconius is a genus of brush-footed butterflies native to the New World, from South American and the southeast United States. While Heliconius butterflies seem no different from other butterflies, they are prime examples of hybrid speciation.

Many of the species in the Heliconius genus originated as hybrids of other Heliconius species and are now reproductively isolated from their parent species. This means that the Heliconius butterfly species have interbred so much that they have created completely new species.

Tiger Muskie

Tiger_Muskellunge_-_Tioga-Hammond_and_Cowanesque_Lakes_-_Pennsylvania_-_2013-06-03
Tiger muskellunge caught at Tioga-Hammond/Cowanesque lakes in Pennsylvania, USA.

The tiger muskellunge, or tiger muskie, is the first hybrid animal on this list that has not been created as the result of humans and naturally occurs in the wild. This carnivorous fish is a cross between the northern pike and the muskellunge, which both reside in freshwater lakes and rivers in upper North America.

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Tiger muskellunge profile.

Tiger muskies are born sterile, but like most other hybrid animals, they grow very quickly and are less susceptible to disease. In one study, tiger muskies grew 1.5 times faster than non-hybrid muskellunge.

Among anglers, they are called the “fish of 10,000 casts” because they are so difficult to catch.

Killer Bees

Africanized honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata)
Africanized honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata)

Africanized honey bees, also known as “killer bees”, are a hybrid between European and African honeybees. They were originally created by biologist Warwick E. Kerr in Brazil when he was attempting to breed a strain of bees that would produce more honey and be better adapted to tropical climates.

Dubbed “killer bees” due to their highly defensive behavior and tendency to swarm, these bees were much more aggressive and competitive than their European counterparts, although their fierce reputation is mostly unfounded.

The spread of Africanized bees between 1990 and 2003.
The spread of Africanized bees in the United States between 1990 and 2003.

Unfortunately, in October 1957, 26 swarms of Kerr’s killer bees were accidentally released, and since then, they have spread rapidly. Branching out from Brazil, they have proliferated across South America, throughout Central America, and into the southern United States. Largely unassisted by humans, they are among the most successful invasive species.

Tiger Trout & Splake

Three versions of the tiger trout hybrid (above) and one splake hybrid (below) - Photo by TyreeUM
Three tiger trout hybrids (above) and one splake hybrid (below). Photo by TyreeUM.

Most hybrids are the offspring of two species in the same genus. However, in some rare cases, hybrids can occur between two species in two different genera. Tiger trout are good examples of this. Tiger trout are a cross between brown trout (Salmo trutta) and brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). They are commonly created in fish hatcheries and stocked in lakes and rivers for sport-fishing. However, like most hybrids, they are sterile.

On the other hand, splake, which are a cross between a male brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and a female lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), are fertile. Splake are also stocked in lakes and rivers for sport-fishing, but even though they are fertile, they do not commonly produce offspring.