You’ve probably heard of a mule (a cross between a female horse and a male donkey), and maybe you’ve heard of a hinny (a cross between a female donkey and a male horse). But did you know that there are dozens of examples of hybrid animals all around us?
Some of these hybrid animals occur in a natural manner, whilst most of them occur due to human involvement and selective breeding.
What exactly is a hybrid animal?
Species are defined as groups of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. However, a hybrid animal occurs when parents from two different (but usually extremely closely related) species are able to produce offspring.
The hybrid offspring of two different species are typically infertile so not able to reproduce, though there are a number of exceptions. With scientific intervention and certain breeding techniques (including artificial insemination), it is possible to create a breeding line of hybridized animals that are actually fertile.
The internet is full of photoshopped pictures of weird animal mash-ups, but below we list 17 of the most epic hybrid animals that actually exist:
Male tiger & female lion
The liger is a hybrid between a male lion and a female tiger, and is the largest feline alive today – weighing up to 420 kg. They have delicate striped patterns on tan-colored fur that gradually fade away in different patches. Ligers are not known to exist in the wild (as their parents’ habitats don’t overlap), only being seen in captivity where they have been selectively bred.
Male lion & female tiger
A tigon has the same parents as a liger, but with the parents’ genders flipped around – a male tiger and a female lion. The tigon body is a light tan with stripes and a white underbelly, and a large maned and spotted head. Tigons only exist in captivity as part of breeding programs as they are usually sterile (though there have been a number of notable exceptions).
Male jaguar & female lion
These unique hybrid big cats are called ‘jaglions’ – and there are only two known of in existence. Jahzara and Tsunami are naturally born siblings between a male jaguar and a female lion raised together at the same zoo, and now live at Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario, Canada
Male leopard & female lion
The leopon is a very rare hybrid of a male leopard and a lioness that’s only ever been produced in captivity. The leopon has stunning looks – much like a mythical beast, with the head of a lion and the body of a leopard. The first leopon was created in India in 1910, and over a century later there are believed to be only around 100 in the world today.
Domestic cat & serval
Savanna cats are the offspring of a domestic cat and a serval – a medium-sized African wild cat. These stunning hybrid cats tend to be more social than domestic cats, and are often described as dog-like.
The savanna cat enjoys playing fetch, has no fear of water, and is happy walking on leashes. They also have their serval heritage intact, with the ability to jump 3 meters high straight off the ground.
Bengal cat & tabby cat
Toygers are a designer cat breed, bred from Bengal and tabby cats to create a wild tiger-like look on a completely domesticated cat. The animal was initially bred by Judy Sugden in 1980 to help prevent the extinction of wild cats by enticing big cat lovers to this smaller, lookalike hybrid cat. They have dark markings on a bright orange background on top and a white underside, and a larger and longer body than typical domestic cats to better sport their tiger-style vertical striping.
Bengal cat & ocicat
The cheetoh was first bred as recently as 2001 by a breeder hoping to create a new feline displaying the physical characteristics of a wild cat with the gentleness of a domestic cat. They succeeded, and the cheetah has a stunning, soft coat that makes it look a little like a miniature leopard or cheetah, with small rosettes or spots in a range of brown, gold, and cinnamon colors. Cheetohs are one of the largest breeds of all domestic cats, but still very rare hybrids.
Polar bear & brown bear
Also known as polar grizz, polizzle, pizzly bear, grizzlar, or nanulakm, these impressive hybrid apex predators are a combination of grizzly bear and polar bear, and somewhat unusual in that they’re seen more frequently in the wild than in zoos.
The first confirmed sighting of a grolar was in 2006, confirmed by DNA testing of a strange-looking bear shot on Banks Island in the Canadian Arctic. It’s likely that climate change is increasing the interaction of brown bears and polar bears in the wild, causing them to increasingly share overlapping territories.
Zebra & any other equine
A zebroid is a generic term for a hybrid of the zebra with any other equine. The zebra was first cross-bred in 1815 and referenced in Darwin’s The Origin of Species. The thinking at the time was that breeding would bring out the best of both species – zebras were less susceptible to disease than horses, while domesticated horses are easier to train.
Subsequent frequent breeding of zebras with equines has led to many different types of zebroid hybrids – zorses, zonkeys, zonies, zedonks, and zebmule, many of which are used as working animals, and all of which have varying degrees of unique zebra stripes.
Coyote & wolf
Coyotes and wolves only diverged around 200,000 years ago, and the two species are still able to mate and produce viable offspring, known as a coywolf. Coywolf share many of the characteristics of their two parents, and are somewhere in between a coyote and a wolf in size when fully grown. It’s not known whether coywolf are animals that mate for life – like both their parent species do.
Male false killer whale & female bottlenose dolphin
A wholphin is a rare hybrid, born from a female bottlenose dolphin and a male false killer whale breeding. The size, color, and shape of a wholphin is a blend of the parent species, giving them a truly unique look. Interesting wholphin fact – they have 66 teeth, exactly halfway between the bottlenose dolphins’ 88 teeth a the false killer whale’s 44 teeth.
Wholphins are known to exist in the wild, and referred to by fishermen as ‘The Great Gray Beast‘. Your best chance of seeing one, however, is to head to Sea Life Park in Hawaii, where they currently have two wolphins in captivity.
Narwal & beluga whale
Narwhals and beluga whales are similar in size and the only two species in the Monodontidae family, so perhaps it not too surprising that they are able to breed successfully in the wild. Though narlugas are extremely rare, there have been a number of recent sightings in the North Atlantic, as well as reports of a school of beluga whales adopting a lost narwhal in Canadian waters. Narlugas are the largest and heaviest animals on this hybrid list.
Camel & llama
First created in 1998 at the Camel Reproduction Centre in Dubai in 1998, these hybrid creatures come from breeding a male dromedary camel from Asia and a female llama from South America. The goal of this breeding project was to create an animal with the size and strength of a camel, and the wool production and milder temperament of a llama. Camas have no camel hump and their size is somewhere between the camel and llama.
Buffalo & cow
Beefalo are the fertile offspring of domestic cattle and American bison (known as buffalo). It’s thought that the first crosses of these two species occurred around 250 years ago, followed by intentional crossbreeding from the 19th century onwards.
The beefalo was created to combine the best attributes of both animals to improve beef production, but has sadly resulted in a serious setback to wild American bison conservation, with wild bison herds becoming polluted with cattle genes.
Cow & wild yak
Originating in the high plateaus of Mongolia and Tibet, the dzo is a male hybrid animal of a yak and a domestic cow. Whilst males are usually sterile, the female hybrid – known as a dzomo or zhom – is fertile. These hybrids tend to be larger and stronger than both cows and yaks, and are prized for their productivity of meat and milk.
Cow & European bison
Zubron were bred by mating domestic cattle with a European bison, with the aim of creating a new form of domestic cattle that were larger, stronger, and more resistant to disease.
Zubron are extremely large hybrids, with the males weighing up to 1,200 kilograms, and are tough animals, capable of tolerating harsh winters. The first zubron was bred in 1847, but the project fizzled out for a range of reasons, leaving just a small herd wandering freely in Poland’s Bialowieski National Park.
Goat & sheep
We finish our collection of hybrid animals with this cutie! The sheep-goat hybrid is known as a geep – or sometimes a ‘shoat’. Breeding between goat and sheep does sometimes occur in the wild, but their offspring are usually stillborn. There are only two known cases of live geeps, but these were sadly sterile due to the makeup of their chromosomes.
And that’s our list of the coolest hybrid animals on earth. Any that surprise you? Or any hybrid species that you think we should add to this list? Join in and let us know in the comments section below!