Hybrid animals are not just the stuff of myth or legend, many hybrid animals exist in the world. Before we cover a selection from across the animal kingdom, let’s define what we mean by a hybrid.
What are Hybrid Animals?
Hybrid animals (also known as crossbreeds) are the product of two animals from separate species mating.
They can come about naturally, which is fairly uncommon, or can be bred for specific purposes.
Why do Hybrid Animals Exist?
Hybrid animals can come about in one of two ways. This can be through natural reproduction, or through selective breeding done by scientists in labs, or breeding programs in zoos.
Although it is rare, sometimes animals naturally crossbreed without any human intervention. If two similar animals happen to be in the same region during their breeding season, they may mate.
It is also thought that animals from separate species or subspecies may breed in an attempt to help their offspring evolve to better live in their environment.
In the same way that animals may naturally decide to mate outside of their breed for evolutionary purposes, us humans may also see the potential in crossbreeding. There have been numerous instances where breeding programs have tried out different combinations of animals to try and help them strengthen the best qualities from each.
In other cases, such as the liger, crossbreeding has been performed purposefully to produce animals as a rare attraction, sadly for greed.
The naming of hybrid animals depends on the sex and species of the parents. The father giving the first half of his species’ name and the mother the second half of hers.
This can result is some amusing hybrid animal names! Let’s tale a look at a selection of 12 hybrid animals that really exist.
1. Grolar Bear
This grizzly–polar bear hybrid also goes by other names, including ‘pizzly bear’ or ‘zebra bear’.
This increasing overlap in habitats between grizzlies and polar bears is becoming an interesting venue for the romantic entanglements of two distinct species; the product of which may be nature’s way of keeping the genes of both alive in a rapidly-changing environment.
In 2006 the first wild evidence of a grolar bear hybrid was confirmed with DNA testing. Subsequently the number of confirmed hybrids in the wild is thought to be around 8, although others have also been reported, yet not confirmed. 1
A product of a yak and domestic cattle, the Dzo is bred primarily to be a pack animal.
They are found in Central Asia, and can also be called by a few other names, such as khainag in Mongolian, and yattle or yakow in English. While there are no out of the ordinary differences between male and female dzo, the female dzo is formally referred to as “dzomo”.
Dzo are sterile and cannot reproduce, but dzomo, however, can. They both are larger than their yak and cattle parents, and seen as much stronger, too. They are seen as bigger and better producers of milk and meat. Additionally, they have also been found to live and work easier in higher altitude climates than their predecessors.
One of the most common hybrids to come about naturally is the coywolf. They are made up of a combination of coyotes with either eastern or gray wolves, and are occasionally called “wolfotes”.
They are so common that it is believed that virtually all North American gray wolves have, in some part, relation to coyotes.
The coywolf tends to be larger than a coyote, but smaller than a wolf. Their behaviors and mannerisms are also intermediate between wolves and coyotes. The coywolf even has a hybrid howl, where it begins sounding like a wolf, and ends with the high-pitched yipping of a coyote.
Ligers only exist in captivity today, because the habitats of the parental species do not overlap out in the wild. They typically grow much larger than either parent species.
Another hybrid from the mating of the same animals – only reversed, a male Tiger and a female Lion – is known as the Tigon, and are often much smaller.
Ligers tend to be more like a lion, than a tiger. They are large, muscly and male ligers will have a mane, like a male lion, but often shorter than their father’s. They have dark tawny fur, with broad heads. They often have feint tiger stripes, inherited from their mother.
Many scientists and campaigners argue that any crossbreeding between big cat species is unethical and is the result of greed, or irresponsible breeding. Accredited zoos frown on crossbreeding big cats and often ligers can be found in private hands and outside main zoos. 2
Similar to the coywolf, wolfdogs are hybrids of wolves, but this time, with domesticated dogs.
While the breed of dog can vary and is not important, to qualify as a wolfdog, the wolf needs to be either gray, eastern, red, or Ethiopian.
Wolfdogs have also come about very naturally.
So naturally, in fact, that some gray wolves and dogs are considered to be from the same species because of how much they have mixed over thousands of years.
Breeding programs for wolfdogs have also existed for several thousand years, and for numerous reasons.
One of the first documented wolfdog breeding programs was in 1766, and the resulting pups were treated both as companions for their human counterparts, as well as oddities that were displayed in zoos. They have also been used as farm dogs, and trained for military use all around the globe.
Crossed between a cougar and a leopard, pumapards are small in stature. Contrary to most hybrid animals that double in size of their parents, the pumapard breed inherited dwarfism, and was often half the size of their predecessors.
They have a long body relative to cougars, with very short legs. Their coats can be dark, gray, sandy, or a chestnut brown.
When the first few kittens had been birthed, it was reported that pumapards were very aggressive and destructive in their behavior. After a few litters by a few different breeders, pumapards were no longer sought out, as interest was quickly lost. This is interesting, given many thought it impossible for the two animals to be able to produce offspring.
Despite their cute exterior, pumapards contributed nothing to the advancement of either species, and even would likely never meet in the wild, nor attempt to breed.
7. Bengal Cat
The most adorable hybrid on this list, the bengal cat, may not have even crossed your mind as a hybrid. But it is! These cats are crossed between an Asian leopard cat and a domesticated one.
While the domestic cat does not have to come from a specific breed, it is most common for it to be a spotted Egyptian Mau.
Because of their aggressive behavior, these cats will then be bred with another domesticated cat, to try and help their offspring have a more friendly disposition.
While their body takes on the same general look as their domesticated cat parent, bengal cat coats have a more wild look to them. One of the most common displays is a shimmery gold color, but they can also be brown spotted, sepia, silver, mink spotted, and seal lynx point.
Their coats can also be patterned in a few ways. Rosette markings are the most common, marbled patterned coats are possible, and glitter coats are the most rare of the three.
Bengals are often very big cats, especially to be a domestic breed. They are most often above the average size of a housecat, and more often on the larger or even extra large end of the spectrum, given their muscle mass. Breeders in recent years have begun breeding their bengals with different domestic cats in an attempt to get them back to the size of their Asian leopard ancestors.
Speaking of their coats, the bengal cat is most commonly known to be a short haired breed, but can also produce longhaired kittens, due to a recessive gene found in many bengals.
These cats are known to be very smart, and very playful. They are a very high energy cat breed, and many even play fetch! Bengals are even often said to enjoy playing in water.
The most common hybrid animal on this list, the mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. They are known to be sterile, but bred specifically to be pack animals.
They often take on the look of a donkey, but the stature and physical structure of a horse, with even more strength than either original animal. They can have any color coat that a donkey or horse has, but often has lighter markings, similar to the donkey.
Because mules are bred to be pack animals, they take on the best qualities of each parent. From donkeys, mules typically get their intelligence, endurance, sure-footedness, and cautiousness. On the other hand, mules get their agility and conformation. Both animals lend their traits of strength to the mule.
These pack animals are often used for transportation in areas all over the world that are rough and rugged, and may not even have a road. Alternatively, they may also be used as riding companions, as they do not tire quite as quickly as the horse, and can carry heavier loads than a horse or donkey can, but are similar in build.
Remember the mule? Well meet its crossbred inversion! A hinny is the product of breeding a male horse with a female donkey (versus the mule’s male donkey and female horse combination). While they look similar, they are different in many ways.
It is fairly difficult to spot the difference between mules and hinnies, despite them being two different animals. However, one distinct difference is their stature. Hinnies are often smaller than their mule counterparts, depending on the breeds of their parents. Additionally, hinnies resemble horses a little more so than donkeys.
Hinnies are often more docile in their behavior, taking after donkeys. They are slower than the mule, and are more thoughtful in their behavioral decision making. This gives off a similar stubborn personality to their donkey ancestors.
Interestingly enough, hinnies are often breeding “accidents”. While breeders often will seek out mules, hinnies are seen as less desirable due to what many consider bad attitudes.
Despite this, hinnies can do all the same things mules can, as they are just as strong. They even can work longer than the mule can, and eat a wider variety of food, making them a great choice for those needing a pack animal in environments that may be sparse in resources.
Another donkey hybrid, the zonkey is a combination of the donkey and a zebra. They are known by many names, some of which are zebrass, zebronkey, zedonk, zebadonk, zenkey or deebra.
Some may also refer to a zonkey as a “zebroid” as this is an umbrella term for all hybrids of zebras and other equine breeds.
Zonkey are born from male zebras and female donkeys. They even have a “hinny” counterpart, like mules, where the male is the donkey and the female is the zebra. These zebra hinnies are even more rare, and most do not live to adulthood. All zedonks, however, are considered sterile.
The zonkey often takes on the physical qualities of a donkey, like the black mane that extends from head to tail, the larger head, and ears. However, zonkeys are striped the same way zebras are.
Although rare, zonkeys can be born in areas of South Africa where zebras and donkeys live in close proximity.
Alternatively, zonkeys have also been specifically bred before. While initially being documented as early as 1815, many geneticists, including Charles Darwin, have studied and bred zonkeys for studying. Eventually, during the South African war, zedonks were produced on a wider scale in an attempt to find a better transport animal, who did not get sick or tired as easily.
Since then, zonkeys have almost completely disappeared, as breeders stopped trying to produce them for conservation’s sake.
A truly fluffy animal, camas are the offspring of a male dromedary camel and a female llama. Initially bred back in 1998, camas came about with the intention of creating a hybrid that produced more wool than a llama, while keeping the same size, strength, and temperament of a camel.
Because dromedary camels can be up to six times the size of a llama, they have to be artificially inseminated to produce any babies. Since it is a lengthy and tricky process, and the odds of carrying it to term are not that great, there are only a handful of them existing in the world.
Despite intentions for camas, they are in between the height sizes of camels and llamas, and can vary greatly. They also have shorter fur than a llama, and do not have a camel’s hump on their backs.
They do, however, hold large amounts of water in the same way camels do, and can go without drinking for very long periods of time. They also vocalize similarly to camels.
The only aquatic animal on this list, the narluga is a product of a male beluga whale and a female narwhal. It had been only theorized to be real for nearly thirty years when, in 2020, a skull’s teeth were analyzed to find out more about the DNA, and confirmed that narlugas do, in fact, exist.
One of the first speculated narlugas was discovered by a scientist in 1990, when they happened upon an odd looking skull in an Inuit hunter’s toolshed in Greenland. The hunter described the animal as having gray skin, narwhal-like tails, and beluga-like flippers. This skull is what later confirmed narluga existence.
What is considered the strangest aspect of narlugas is their teeth. Beluga whales have 40 teeth, and narwhals have next to none, and instead suction-feed. Narlugas, however, have 18 teeth near the very front of their mouth that spiral almost similarly to a narwhal tusk.
Being that both animals spend a majority of their life under packed sea ice, not much is known about either species, and even less is known about narlugas. Despite this, it is believed narlugas are an uncommon fluke caused by mating rituals that are similar between the breeds.
While there is no documented population of narlugas, it is believed that there may be more out there that simply have not been spotted by humans. Even if there are, there are no proven facts about narluga fertility, so it is impossible to say that this breed is self-sustaining and ever-growing, although many are hopeful. 3
That completes our list of the top 10 hybrid animals that really exist.
Hybrid animals are far less common than purebred species. It’s rare that different species will mate naturally in the wild.
Typically different species are unable to reproduce with each other, due to genetic and morphological differences. However, it is sometimes possible for closely related species to mate.
Offspring of these hybrids may not be able to breed themselves, and even if they could, it may be undesirable to continue breeding hybrids because it may lead to genetic problems later in the lineage.
While there are clear ethical concerns of cross breeding and hybrids occuring in the wild have often been considered ‘biological flukes’, recent genetic sequencing is beginning to unravel the critical role of hybridization in the evolutionary history of many organisms. 4
Fact Sources & References
- Dr. Evan Richardson (2021), “Pizzlies? Grolars? Why Hybrids Aren’t an Answer for Polar Bears“, Polar Bears International.
- “Cat Experts: Ligers and Other Designer Hybrids Pointless and Unethical”, via National Geographic.
- Jason Bittel (2019), “The ‘narluga’ is a strange hybrid. But it’s far from alone“, The Washington Post.
- Ashley Yeager (2021), “Hybrid Animals Are Not Nature’s Misfits“, The Scientist.