What is: A Hybrid Animal?
There are a lot of pictures and videos out there of fake hybrids, but the real deals are just as cool, although perhaps not as exciting:
What are some examples of hybrid animals?
Most people know that a mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey. What most people (and by most people I mean MYSELF) don’t know, however, is that a mule is a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. If you reverse the sexes, you get a hinny (male horse + female donkey, also known as a jenny).
Many people also know that a mule is sterile and cannot produce offspring. Why, you might ask? It has to do with their genes. A horse has 64 chromosomes, while a donkey has 62. When they mate, they produce a mule with 63 chromosomes, and an odd number of chromosomes poses a problem. Your chromosomes pair up during the production of sperm and egg cells, and since an odd number can’t produce a full set of pairs, the mule ends up unable to produce offspring.
Llama wool is soft and can be sold for a lot of money. Wouldn’t it be nice to breed huge llamas and therefore get even more wool? The cama is the result of this line of thinking, and is the offspring of a camel and a llama. Camels and llamas have the same number of chromosomes, so camas aren’t sterile. They are the first successful cross between an Old World camelid (camels) and a New World camelid (llamas, alpacas, etc.) — two groups of organisms that have been evolving separately for tens of millions of years.
Crosses between Zebras and other members of the horse family are fairly common. I think zonkeys (technically not the correct term, but the most fun to say!) are my favorite, mostly because of all the great names they can be called:
- MANY MORE!
For all the information you could ever want to know about zebra hybrids, check out this site.
Male Lion + Female Tiger = Liger
Male Tiger + Female Lion = Tigon
Both ligers and tigons are known to be skilled in magic.
Iron Age Pig:
Iron Age Pigs are pretty neat animals. The are a cross between a Tamworth sow and a wild board, and are meant to resemble what pigs might have been like (in both appearance and temperment) during the Iron Age (12th century BC). The point of this cross-breeding? Sausage.
I once had a group of students do a project on the pros of cloning, and their (hilarious, yet surprisingly compelling) argument was that we could clone endangered species for the sole purpose of eating them. This animal reminds me of that idea.
Hybrids don’t have to necessarily include the DNA of animals that are still alive today. There are some pretty interesting thoughts out there as to what we could breed in the future. For example…
Could we create an elephant-woolly mammoth hybrid?
Possibly. The Asian elephant shares over 99% of its DNA with woolly mammoths, and could conceivably serve as a surrogate mother for a baby mammoth. Just find some frozen mammoth sperm, inject it into an elephant egg, and see what happens. Piece of cake, right?
Technically, we don’t even need any elephant DNA to bring back mammoths. If we could get an intact mammoth cell nucleus, we could use the cloning process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (in a nutshell) to have an elephant give brith to a baby mammoth. All of this stuff is just theory for now, though. While some scientists are very optimistic, we are still a long ways off from attempting something as crazy as resurrecting woolly mammoth. One wonders why we would do this in the first place anyways, as it seems rather cruel to help create an animal of a long-extinct species just to study it.
Poor, loney cloned mammoth future-baby.
Resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth: Science, Law, Ethics, Politics, and Religion – Stanford Technology Law Review (great read if you’ve got the time)
Back to the Future – Iron Age Pigs – Wild Facts
Cama Facts – Wild Facts
Woolly mammoths to walk the earth again? – Houston Museum of Natural Science