Cryptomundians Talk Hybrids

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 26th, 2007

Here are some recent things said by Brent Swancer (mystery man) and Sheila Collins (kittenz) in an exchange about hybrids, which was going off-topic within another blog.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not (necessarily) express those of any Cryptomundo bloggers, and should be viewed as readers’ commentary versus verified factual information that has been fully researched, although it may have been.

If people wish to discuss hybrids, here it is the discussion originally posted as comments only.

Brent Swancer on hybrids:

Not all hybrids get huge, and there are hybrids that are smaller than both parents. For example, whereas you have ligers (the offspring of male lion and a tigress) that get spectacularly huge, there are also “tigons” which are born of a male tiger and a lioness. These tigons are smaller than both parents and are incidentally a lot rarer because of the apparent increased difficulty of getting a male tiger to mate with a female lion. there is an interesting biological reason for this, but I won’t ramble too much here.

Yes, you are right. It was three hybrid offspring born in Washington DC. I remember reading about the story of Willy. While we are on bears, it is important to note that while this article describes the first officially documented natural grizzly/polar bear hybrid, there have been other unconfirmed stories of this happening. A grizzly taxonomist by the name of C Hart Merriam allegedly found a bear that was quite different than other grizzlies and he thought he had found a living fossil of some kind, even giving it the scientific name of Vetularctos inopinatus (”ancient, unexpected bear”). He thought it was from a seperate lineage from Ursinae. It was apparently killed in 1864 in Canada. Nowadays it is thought that this was either a grizzly/polar bear hybrid, or an unusual specimen of grizzly. There was another one reportedly shot on Kodiak island that was an enormous, off white bear with hair on its paws. This paw hair suggests it was not a Kodiak bear but rather it was either a natural hybrid or an aberrant polar bear. I hope I am remembering these names, places and dates accurately.

You are absolutely correct in that there have been other hybrids too. There have successful matings of brown and grizzly bears as well as brown and polar bears. I agree with you, I am not surprised this happens. Most species of bear (except two) can crossbreed, and most have a set of 74 chromosones. One exception is the spectacled bear, with 52 chromosones. The other species that differs from most bears in number of chromosomes is the giant panda, with 42. What you said about the relationship with brown bears and polar bears is also very true. Some DNA studies have shown that some brown bears are actually closer to polar bears than to other brown bears, begging the question of whether they are even technically two different species.

Don’t forget servicals and caravals, which are hybrids between serval and caracal parents. These apparently are sometimes bred for the home market, but wind up being unruly pets due to their territorial nature and incredible jumping abilities. I think there was also a one time only successful crossbreeding of a tiger with a leopardess, which resulted in what was called a “tigard”. In India , in the early 1900s I believe, there were reports of what was called a “dogia”, which is a cross between a leopard and tigress. There were sightings of very large leopards with abdominal striping, but unfortunately it seems these were never confirmed although one was apparently shot. I’ve even heard of crosses between lions and leopards (liards) as well as hybrids between blackfooted cats and domestic cats. I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Cats aren’t really my area, and seeing as you know your cats, I’m sure you would know better than me.

Concerning hybrid vigor, there is an interesting hypotheses that is sometimes used to explain the growth dysplasia in some big cat hybrids, namely with ligers and tigons. If I remember correctly, the idea is that a lion’s competitive mating strategy, a lion’s genes favor larger offspring. This is due to the social need to defend a pride and maintain status in a pride often containing several males. Size has a lot of advantages. However, since a lioness gives birth to up to 5 cubs, the female transmits a growth inhibiting gene to balance out the size favored by the male lion’s genes. Tigers, on the other hand do not have the same pressure to fight for status and lack the genetic disposition to produce larger and larger competing offspring. Add to that the fact that a tigress gives birth to fewer cubs, and there is no need for a growth inhibitor.

So basically with a lion father and tigress mother, you have offspring that grow unfettered due to being denied a growth inhibitor. With tiger fathers and lion mothers, you have no genes cueing for extreme size, and yet the growth inhibitor takes effect, limiting the tigon’s size. I believe this is only a hypothesis, with other competing hypotheses out there as well, but it is fascinating nonetheless. There are many reasons for hybrid vigor, depending on the species involved, but this is one example I find interesting.

I agree that hybridization can be ok under experimental circumstances and if the animal is treated well. The problem though is that sometimes hybrids will display health problems, being prone to cancer and other illnesses, and often have a shorter lifespan. Apparently depending on the species they can also have behavioral, and or psychological problems due to competing instincts from two parents with very different social structures. Therefore, I am not sure how humane it is to produce hybrids between certain species. Anyway, I find hybridization fascinating myself and enjoy everyone’s comments here.

Some other thoughts on what you said. I also believe that hybridization plays an important evolutionary role although traditionally it hasn’t always been seen that way. In my opinion hybridization can create genetic diversification. Simply put, a hybrid genotype that causes increased fitness in a given habitat is conveying the same sort of selective advantage that would be caused by genetic mutation.

Hybridization is not always a positive thing, though. While natural hybridization can increase diversity, the problem comes when genetic hybridization is influenced by human activities, specifically introduced species and fragmentation of habitats. Especially with introduced species, the genetic integrity of a native species can be compromised, sometimes even to the point of extinction. There are many examples of native animals decreasing in numbers or disappearing due to interbreeding with the sometimes more readily available or aggressive introduced species, so basically you have the native species being sort of “absorbed” into the non native one, with blurring of genetic integrity as a result.

With non localized hybridization, you can get what is referred to as a “hybrid swarm”. This is basically a population or group of populations made up entirely of hybrids by varying generations, with a lot of mating between hybrids. Especially in this case, you get that genetic blurring, called “genetic introgression” caused by the flow of genes between the hybridized populations which can originate from 2 or more parent taxa. Depending on a number of factors, this can lead to a swamping of one species by the “hybrid swarm”.

An outcome of hybridization that can definitely lead to speciation is what is called a “hybrid taxon”. In this case you get a stable population of individuals with a set of traits distinct from the parent taxa. These populations are independently evolving and one could say that for all intents and purposes, they either comprise a new species or are fast on their way to becoming one.

This is all very fascinating for me, since one of my areas is the effect of introduced animals on native ecosystems, which often involves interbreeding between native and non native species. Hybridization in this case can cause genetic diversity, but can also cause problems and sometimes it is hard to see which way it will go for quite some time. As a basic rule, I think occasional hybridization between two naturally occurring populations is generally good, hybridization between native and introduced species not so much.

I thought I may as well list some examples of introduced species threatening a native species through hybridization and introgression so you can see what I mean.

One is the Sitka deer (cerus nippon), a Japanese species that was introduced to Great Britain over a hundred years ago. This introduced deer has interbred with the native red deer (Cervus elephaus) to the point that the genetic integrity and fitness of the latter has been compromised.

Then there is the case of the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) and domestic dog. Since the domestic dog is much more common, and have been witnessed mating with the wolves we have a situation where a rarer species’ mating with a common introduced species could threaten the former. There is already evidence of introgression present with the Ethiopian wolf.

The domestic cat swamped the European wild cat (F. sylvestris) as well as the African wildcat (F. lybica). This sort of thing seems to happen a lot with especially carnivores. The same happens with birds, fish, amphibians, insects, and plants. Fish in particular have shown spectacular examples of hybridization wiping out native species, one reason being that fish hybrids are often fertile. My point is to illustrate that hybrids are not some sort of magic pill for species diversification and their effect is not always a positive one.

The list goes on and on. So while I think hybridization and hybrid vigor can be beneficial and can play a role in speciation and increased fitness of species, it sadly is not always the case.

Sheila Collins on hybrids:

I have often seen this particular bear referred to as “the world’s first recorded polar bear-grizzly bear hybrid”. It should be referred to as “the world’s first documented wild polar bear/grizzly bear hybrid”. Test matings in zoos, as well as some accidental matings, have occurred and the hybrid offspring are as viable as the purebred offspring of either species. That is not too surprising, since it’s thought that the polar bear diverged from the brown bear very recently, and grizzly bears are considered to be conspecific with brown bears.

Other subspecies of brown bears are known to have produced hybrid offspring with polar bears in captivity too. A male polar bear accidentally got into an enclosure with a female Kodiak bear at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. They had (I believe), three cubs. One of the hybrids was named Willy. He was very similar to this bear in appearance. He lived at the zoo for several years. He grew to be HUGE. Maybe he was an instance of the type of “growth dysplaysia” that occurs in male ligers; I do not know and I have not seen any documentation of that. Often hybrid animals grow to be larger than animals of either parent species. Apparently, though, test matings were carried out between some of the hybrid offspring, and they were able to breed successfully with each other, producing living cubs, so in that way they were unlike most ligers, the males of which are usually sterile. That’s another indication that polar bears and brown bears are closely related.

It’s really odd too, in that some interspecies hybrids differ depending on which species is which parent. Tigons certainly come first to my mind, but also, for instance, the hinny – the offspring of a stallion and a jenny (female donkey) – is, as a rule, smaller, less robust, and has less strength and stamina than its counterpart, the mule, which is the offspring of a jack donkey and a mare. Male mules and ligers are usually sterile too, although many females are fertile. Tigons and hinnies apparently do not have such a high percentage of sterile adults, although I have not seen concrete documentation of that, just anecdotal reports. Tigons and hinnies are said to be less tractable, more nervous and more aggressive than ligers and mules, too. Female tigons and ligers, when fertile, can mate with either parent species. Horse/zebra hybrids, and hybrids of horses and wild asses or Przewalski’s horse, are usually robust animals, evidence that the entire modern genus Equus are pretty closely related to one another.Lion/leopard hybrids that I have seen, where the leopard is the male parent, also seem to have hybrid vigor, although they do not attain the size of ligers. I am not aware of any lion/leopard hybrids where the male parent is the lion. My guess is that the size difference between the two species is so pronounced that it might not be possible for a female leopard to carry a litter of such large offspring to term.

I’ve seen photos of puma/leopard hybrids too. They are lovely creatures, and everything I can find on them says that they matured at about half the size of the parents, but I do not know which parent was which species.

I’ve also seen photos and descriptions of ocelot/puma hybrids, where the ocelot was the male parent. They were gracile cats which looked exactly as one would expect: a bit larger than the ocelot, quite a bit smaller than the puma. Apparently no hybrid vigor there, because most of the cubs that have been born have either been stillborn or die when very young. Only a few have lived to maturity, and I have seen no information as to whether they were fertile or sterile.

Then there are natural lynx/bobcat hybrids, which are occurring in the wild in some parts of the cats’ ranges. They are intermediate between the two species in size and appearance, and apparently get on as well in the wild as either parent.

The subject of interspecies hybridization is a fscinating one. I’m opposed to breeding ligers and other hybrids of wild animals for entertainment’s sake, simply because so many of the animals end up in terrible circumstances. But I have nothing against hybrid test matings, so long as they are carried out for research purposes and the animals are treated humanely for life. There are some things that can be learned no other way. Who would have dreamed that there would be such a difference in ligers and tigons, for instance? The differences are fascinating, and studying them sheds light on the relationship between species and gives us clues as to how some now-exticnt species may have looked behaved.

I believe that there is more hybridization in the wild than is generally recognized, and that it is one avenue that sometimes, albeit very infrequently, can lead to speciation.

Certainly hybridization in the wild has been a problem for people who are trying to save the Red Wolf from extinction. They hybridize so readily that it was a fight just to get the Red Wolf recognized as a distinct species.

On the other hand, the Florida Panther may have been saved when animals from the Texas subspecies of cougar were brought into the population to provide relief from inbreeding. Of course, that was not really interspecies hybridization, but intraspecies hybridization, sinch the breeding occurred between subspecies.

Some modern species, especially those that appear to be very closely related, may indeed have experienced hybridization at some point in their evolution. We’ll probably never know for sure, but the idea is plausible.

At some point during speciation, the evolving species may, from time to time, encounter the species from which it is diverging, and they may mate and produce viable offspring which in turn live long enough to reproduce. I believe that this is what happened with polar bears as they were diverging from brown bears, and from the reports of wild hybrids that turn up from time to time, it still happens on occasion.


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Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

29 Responses to “Cryptomundians Talk Hybrids”

  1. elsanto responds:

    If I’m not mistaken, most of the examples that both mystery_man and kittenz have cited are hyrbrids at the inter-species level… I’d be curious to hear your respective takes on inter-genus hyrbids… such as Kekaimalu, the “wholphin” (not a term I much care for) who is the female offspring of a Pseudorca crassidens (false killer whale) and a Tursiops truncatus (bottlenose dolphin). Kekaimalu has given birth to three offspring, the first of which died after mere days, the second (which was not nursed by its mother) died at the age of 9. I have no references for the species of said calves’ fathers. Her most recent calf, born in late December, 2004, is still alive, by all accounts, and is the offspring of a rather large male bottlenose dolphin. This case is the only documented one in captivity, though there are (apparently) accounts where this has occurred in the wild…

    What are we to make of such a case?

  2. planettom responds:

    Loren, thanks for the moderation on these submissions. Though these “comments” are both very long, they do present valid information from both sides. Maybe the two should exchange emails or meet for coffee? 🙂 Though they went off topic from the original post, they did create a new interesting tangent topic. Thanks again Loren for being a good moderator on the site.

  3. Darkside responds:

    As a Molecular Biologist I find much of your information to be misleading.

  4. dogu4 responds:

    Here here! Three cheers more! Here’s to the learnable moment. Thanks, Loren, for your efforts.

  5. bill green responds:

    very informative new article about hybrids. thanks bill green

  6. Saint Vitus responds:

    The Blue-winged and Golden- winged warblers are two closely related birds that hybridize frequently in the wild and have fertile offspring, but the hybrids usually disappear in a few generations. I seem to recall reading about a similar situation with two closely related species of salamanders in the Northeast. As far as inter-genus hybrids go, the common kingsnake has been known in captivity to mate with milk snakes, corn snakes and other species and produce fertile offspring. This apparently doesn’t happen in the wild, as king snakes are notorious for preying on other snakes. It’s interesting, but I can’t say I approve of encouraging animals to hybridize, especially if rare species are involved.

  7. MattBille responds:

    Karl Shuker’s “Mystery Cats of the World” covered felines extensively, including the only known tiger-leopard cross killed in the wild and a second-generation hybrid animal of mixed lion, leopard, and jaguar genes. Another second-generation example was the “litigon,” 3/4 lion, which died a few years ago in a zoo in India. It was colossal for a feline, resembling a small draft horse in a cat suit.

    Don’t forget the Kellas cat, which appears to be a case where crossing of wild and domestic cats led to the expression of some latent genes producing an animal significantly different from either parent.

    The bottle-nose dolphin has been known to produce young with 21 other species of cetacean, some intergeneric. A lot of these cases have resulted from confinement and might not happen in the wild, but there are some wild small-cetacean hybrids on record. On a larger scale, blue and fin whales have produced young on several occasions, and I believe there’s one known blue/humpback hybrid currently living. Darren Naish helped me compile some of these for the cetacean chapters in my book Shadows of Existence. Finally, there’s one case of a beluga/narwhal cross killed in the wild.

    It’s certainly likely that some cryptozoological reports involve hybrids, but good luck figuring out which.

  8. cryptidsrus responds:

    I always enjoy MYSTERY_MAN’s posts.
    KITTENZ too.


    Could you care to elaborate on what you find “misleading” about the information given?

    I would love to hear a molecular biologist’s opinion on the subject.

  9. jules responds:

    Humm – I did a college report on this subject years ago. A few things don’t ring quite true to me, but most of it seems on target.
    Oh, and I don’t think that a Panda is a bear at all.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    Well in light of our resident molecular biologist’s comments, I feel there are some things I should say to clarify what I posted.

    First and foremost, it must be made clear that this started as a friendly exchange of ideas between Kittenz and myself. It was not meant to be a peer reviewed scientific paper so I find it interesting we have already drawn criticism. I don’t know where exactly I am being seen as being misleading, and I am sure that if I had known I would get cross examined by another scientist, I could have written this in more concrete and defined terms. I don’t know what the problem is, but I will try to explain some points to hopefully avoid any confusion.

    Some of the things I brought up are indeed still debatable, such as the extent of the role of hybridization in evolution. I have read papers that expound its importance, and others that downplay it. Everything I have mentioned in this regard is my own opinion, and it is one shared by others that I know of within the scientific community. I do not claim to be the final say on this matter and I stated that this is only my opinion. How can my opinion be misleading? I merely put it out there for people to consider, and let them go do their own research to come to their own conclusions.

    Any items I mentioned of a hypothetical or unproven nature, such as the genetics of ligers and tigons, were clearly labeled as such. I am not an expert on ligers, and I was merely illustrating one idea that I have heard of. I did not assume to be an authority on the matter or claim at any point that this is hard fact. It was an example only, one that I found interesting, and I think it was made clear as such.

    Concerning the threat hybridization with introduced species potentially holds for native ones, well let me say some things about this as well. A molecular biologist has made him or herself known, maybe trying to pull an expert card, so I might as well explain what I do. I must say I am often active in research in Japan into the biology of native species and effect of introduced species on native ecology, as well as an avid student of zoology. While I definitely respect a molecular biologist’s opinion, and I do not claim to be some high and mighty expert, I think I do have some idea of what I am talking about in this area. I mentioned hybridization as one possible threat of invasive species, although it must be understood it is not the only one. Other possible threats include predation, competitive exclusion, niche displacement, and disease vectors, as well as the introgression and hybridization I mentioned. The only thing misleading I can think of here with regards to my post is that maybe I gave the impression of hybridization being the leading or only danger to native species. It isn’t and as I said there are a lot of factors involved with evaluating the status of a native species in relation to an introduced one. Sometimes hybridization has no ill effects at all or is not an issue. But make no mistake that it is a factor to be considered and it can lead to extinction or genetic blurring of indigenous plants and animals. This was the point I was trying to make and maybe this clarifies things.

    As to the examples of species I mentioned in illustrating this point, they are accurate to the best of my knowledge and I even double checked them to be sure memory served. They are only a very few examples of this happening and I could give many more. If any of mine are wrong in some respect, then by all means clarify.

    Like I said, this was not meant to be a scientific article or paper. I exchanged some of my views and some information, hopefully so that people who didn’t know anything about the subject could gain some understanding. I made a point to check my facts wherever necessary, such as with bear chromosome numbers, and some other things. This is a complex topic, and by necessity, many things I wrote about have been perhaps overly simplified, so this condensed information could maybe be seen to be misleading. There is no way to possibly touch on all of the intricacies involved here and I provided only a few bits and pieces. If I wanted to write a scientific essay on this, I could, and perhaps that would be more acceptable to some. but that was not my purpose of posting these things. What I’m doing here is having a friendly discussion, speculating, and having fun, and hopefully teaching something new about a subject I love.

    What I would really like to see, rather than people coming on here and criticizing or making vague references to their expert status as they denounce our posts, is for them to get involved in the discussion. Why not share what you know, or discuss these things in an intelligent, civil way? Maybe we can clarify if there is something “misleading” or maybe we can learn something new. And If there are those here with no knowledge on the topic, I’d like to be able to see them give their thoughts anyway without fear of harsh criticism. There are knowledgeable posters here, and unfortunately, you get the people who want to play expert cards and hold that over other’s heads. I say let’s just relax and have an open minded, fair discussion in this forum.

  11. mystery_man responds:

    Jules- That’s not exactly true. There used to be a lot of debate about the taxonomy of the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), whether it belonged with bears, raccoons, or in its own group. In recent years there has been a lot of evidence to point to them lying firmly on the bear branch, and they are classified under the family Ursidae, the same family as bears, which includes 8 species and 5 genera. They are unique and occupy their own genus, but they are considered to be classified as bears.

  12. Sunny responds:

    Darkside, your condemnation of what is a very intelligent discussion amongst very well-informed and well-educated people without any further discourse is disturbing at best. If you are a molecular biologist, then I think your comments are more than welcomed here (and I’ll apologize for speaking for the others). This is a very interesting topic, and the more information given, the better.

    If you are only making the “I find your comments misleading” to throw fuel on the fire, you’ve apparently not succeeded, but have only cast yourself in a rather unflattering light.

  13. elsanto responds:

    StVitus (Let’s dance! …couldn’t resist…) and MattBille:

    Thanks for the examples of intergeneric hyrbridization. Didn’t realize that there was so much of it — interesting that there is as much as there is among cetaceans. Most of the time, we only ever hear about inter-species hybridization… then again, taxonomy is just humans assigning names to natural phenomena — nature does as it will, regardless of the system of nomenclature that humans apply to it (to say nothing of the assumed rules accompanying said assignment), as the examples you’ve given all show.

    While your defence was an interesting and eloquent read, and I understand and appreciate the spirit in which it was written, it was hardly warranted considering that one self-proclaimed molecular biologist made a blanket statement that didn’t merit any kind of reply.

    Just my two cents.

  14. planettom responds:

    elsanto: great point! mystery_man – great topic and response. Thanks for your input, and Matt Bille, I will add that book to my wish list.


  15. dogu4 responds:

    Thanks Mystery Man for keepin’ it both informative and lively. Answering the dark sider’s criticism is an excellent way to focus our attention and only regret the source of the criticism wasn’t better identified. Maybe this critic should try focusing some of their molecular biological ability towards communications skills, for what is science if it doesn’t enlighten, even by arguement, yes?
    This discussion brings to mind for me an old essay from the magazine Nature by the late Steven J. Gould where he discusses a little practice that Loren Eisley spoke about in private where in his globe travelling, going from field site to lecture audience, he would furtively disperse seeds that he’d sequestered along the way, citing his fondness for acting as an agent of change. It would be seen as an environmental crime these days, but in light of the enviromental crime we see all around us, perhaps those little instances of larceny at least brings some understanding along.

  16. Sordes responds:

    Many animals produce hybrids in nature, no matter if they are insects, fish, mammals birds or amphibians. Some of them are much more spectacular than others, for example the cases of hybrid baleen whales. Hybrids between blue whales and fin whales as well as a hybrid of a blue whale and humpback whale (which is still alive) are documented. But in zoos or circusses even animals can cross which would never see each other in nature, for example lama/camel hybrids, or those babirusa/domestic pig hybrids.

  17. jayman responds:

    A very interesting discussion. As for primates, I remember reading years ago that a gibbon and a siamang produced a hybrid offspring in a zoo. I believe these two lesser apes are assigned to different genera and differ considerably in chromosome number.

  18. kittenz responds:

    Thanks Loren, for creating this topic … we were getting pretty far afield from the previous one 🙂 .

    I enjoy the stimulating conversations here at Cryptomundo, particularly with mystery_man and several other long-time favorite members. Cryptomundo is a place where we can share ideas and knowledge, and above all, where we can speculate about possibilities, and know that our posts will be seen and appreciated by other intelligent people from all walks of life, who share our curiosity about the natural world around us.

    As mystery_man has pointed out, these conversations are not intended to be scientific papers, but instead are exchanges of ideas between interested people, within a forum where we can comfortably discuss a wide variety of topics. And it’s fun!

    I feel sure that mystery_man doesn’t present anything as a fact unless he is sure of it; I don’t either. That doesn’t mean that we are always right; I’ve been wrong a few times, and I’ll cheerfully admit that ;). I correct my mistakes wherever I can. Speculations, on the other hand, are just that: one definition of “speculate” is “to introduce possibilities”. Another is “to wonder”. We can introduce possibilities here, and bounce them to other intelligent people who have that same sense of wonder about the natural world.

    I’m not a molecular biologist :). I find molecular biology fascinating, and view it as another tool by which to study living things, but it has a long way to go before I take it as gospel; there are a lot of data open to interpretation, and published interpretations of the same data often differ widely – as is the case in most scientific disciplines. Not being an “expert” in any field, I like to keep an open mind. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I try not to let my schooling interfere with my education ;).

    I, too, am curious as to why you feel mislead, Darkside. Will you elaborate on why you have that opinion, so that we can all discuss it and maybe clear the air? I’m sure that your input would be interesting and informative.

    Now about deliberately creating hybrids: I do not advocate creating hybrid animals – certainly not hybrids of wild animals – for the sake of entertainment and exploitation. Even the smaller types of wild cats are a challenge to handle safely, and I know from personal experience that that goes for wolf and coyote hybrids too. Ligers, tigons, and other large carnivores simply don’t belong in private hands. Sure, a few owners who have these animals are responsible people who provide excellent homes for them. But for every one that has a happy, healthy home for life, there are dozens, sometimes hundreds or even thousands that are kept in woefully substandard conditions, until they are eventually abandoned or destroyed.

    On the other hand, there are some things that can be learned from test breedings. Given that a commitment is made and kept to provide humane care and treatment to the animals for their entire lives, I am not opposed to test breeding of hybrids for research, on a very limited basis.

    As to producing mules and other domesticated hybrids, it’s certainly beyond question that mules of many types are incredibly useful animals. And if dedicated people want to create new breeds of domestic cats, for instance, by introducing wild species into some of their breeding programs, I don’t have a problem with that, so long it’s not done indiscriminately. All of our domestic animals were developed from wild species, most of them with some degree of hybridization from time to time.

    I do think that hybrids are a valid topic for Cryptomundo. There probably aren’t many instances of wild interspecies hybrids, but those that do occur would certainly fall under the heading of “cryptid animals”. And it gives us all further avenuse of speculation. For instance, I envision Panthera atrox and possibly resembling a jaglion. (That’s purely subjective, of course :)).

    Thanks again Loren – and everyone! This is a fascinating topic for discussion.

  19. Saint Vitus responds:

    Some other rare, naturally occuring hybrids are White-throated Sparrow x Dark-eyed Junco (snowbird) and Canebrake Rattler x Eastern Diamondback.

  20. Saint Vitus responds:

    Oh, and I forgot to mention an Audubon’s x Altamira Oriole hybrid I saw in South Texas. I could probably go on about hybrids forever!

  21. Sunny responds:

    So here’s a question especially directed at you, then, kittenz — what are your feelings about the breeding programs currently in place in Florida to cross-breed (read: hybridize) big cats — specifically, creating a crossbreed between the Florida Panther and a related Texas big cat to introduce genetic diversity into a dangerously small population, one that (at least according to the experts) is running an enormous risk of genetic mutations caused by inbreeding amongst that very small (guessed to be as low as 30-50 individuals) population?

    The official line is that not only can the risk of mutations via inbreeding be reduced, but that by introducing the Texas cats (more accurately, impregnating Texas cats with Florida panthers) increases the breeding female population, thereby more quickly repopulating the Florida panther as a species?

    I’m not entirely sure I’ve made my mind up — but I’d be keenly interested to read your views, as well as that of any others.

  22. mystery_man responds:

    Thanks for everyone’s comments here. Sorry about the long post here, but I have more thoughts on this topic.

    I agree with what some have said that science often involves throwing ideas around and speculating, and as Dogu4 said that the ultimate purpose of science is to enlighten even if it is through argument. There is a lot of debate and disagreement between scientists even within the same field, and as Kittenz says, it is easy to find papers on the same general subjects that are not in support of or even contradict each other. Interpretations of data can vary wildly as well, so I would be surprised if someone could come out and say that they new all of the answers. I know I don’t, and I don’t ever claim to. This is why I feel it is important to engage in discussion on these matters, and through this discourse hopefully shed light on how the world around us works.

    One thing I have been contemplating during all of this talk on hybrids is concerning conservation of possibly unique hybrids or ones that are beneficial to the ecology. I have already mentioned the problems that can arise with hybrid zones (areas where hybridization occurs) brought about by the introduction of non indigenous species, also called invasive species. They can sometimes threaten genetic uniqueness or fitness of native wildlife and plantlife through interbreeding and I gave an example of this earlier with regards to the Ethiopian wolf breeding with domesticated dogs. This absolutely happens and it can be dangerous for the native species.

    I must mention however, that there are cases in nature when hybrids are of some value and even beneficial. Hybridization can occur for a variety of reasons and it does not always lead to a detrimental impact on the ecology. For example, hybridization can occur naturally when two or more geographically separated species shift or expand their range. This can happen for a variety of factors, including climate change and changing availability of resources. Hybrids of this type can persist for a long time and can even develop unique genetic or phenotypic qualities. In some cases, these types of hybrids can grow into an important part of the ecological landscape and can get to the point that they can no longer be replaced simply by crossbreeding the two original parent species. Another scenario that can be beneficial for the ecology is when a hybrid somehow fills an important biological niche left open by the extinction of the original species.

    If I am not being “misleading”, you will hopefully see that hybridization can go both ways, either to the benefit or detriment of the ecology.

    So where does conservation come into all of this? I’ll get to the hybrids in a moment, but first of all I think it is important to understand that conservation efforts of wildlife and plantlife in this day and age has become a terrific struggle against human population growth, pollution, habitat destruction, and the worldwide exploitation or persecution of plant and animal species. There has to be some sort of prioritization when allocating the scant resources available for conservation and this is all done with the heavy burden of knowing there is no way to adequately protect all of nature’s biodiversity. Now I fully support the Endangered Species act, but I think a problem can be seen when one looks at the fact that only a small percentage of species on the list for the federal Endangered Species Act actually receive any real federal support.

    The problem this poses for animals in general and unique hybrids in particular is that one of the important criterion for prioritizing species is the genetic uniqueness of the candidate species. The problem is that the criterion for deciding this uniqueness is only as reliable as the data available. Moreover, the Endangered Species Act does not in general satisfactorily address the protection of hybrids and some of the issues of taxonomic distinction involved.

    So what to do? How can we evaluate the conservation status of intermediate animal forms found in hybrid zones? In my opinion, I think that the issues I have already mentioned should play a role. First, the cause of hybridization should be looked at. If a hybrid zone has developed due to an invasive species, any hybrids should be afforded lower conservation statues, if any at all. If the hybridization has occurred naturally and/or has resulted in unique characteristics non reproducible and unable to be regenerated by the simple inter breeding of the parent species, then I think they should be afforded some protection at least tentatively. As I said earlier, these types of hybrids sometimes have become a part of the ecology or may have filled a needed niche left open by an extinct species. If a hybrid has come about as the result of habitat alterations or predator control measures on an unprotected species (which I believe happened at one point between grey wolves and coyotes), these hybrids should probably not be treated as a distinct population. In my opinion the endangered parent species should be given priority for conservation in this case because perhaps when this happens, interbreeding will perhaps cease to occur and the two parent species will remain distinct and intact.

    So are some hybrids worth preserving? Are some worth any sort of conservation efforts? These are just my opinions and I do not mean them to be taken as fact. I am curious to know what other posters here think about the matter.

  23. kittenz responds:


    Florida Panthers are a subspecies of the puma. The cats that were brought into the Florida Panther breeding program are another subspecies of puma. They are not from another species, so the offspring of the two aren’t really hybrids in that sense of the word.

    The Texas subspecies is very closely related to the Florida subspecies, and in fact, before the Eastern puma population became fragmented early in the 20th century, intergrades – animals intermediate between the two subspecies – occurred between their respective ranges.

    The Florida Panther population was severely inbred, and was in steep decline due to abnormal sperm and other problems caused by intense inbreeding. A lot of thought was given to the problem before bringing in “outside” animals from Texas, and the pros greatly outweighed the cons. The Florida Panther inbreeding problem would probably have led eventually to the complete extinction of the subspecies.

    In my opinion the decision to bring in the animals from the Texas subspecies was a good one. As a matter of fact I’ll go one step further: I am not opposed to breeding together different subspecies as part of a managed breeding program. Two caveats: (1) a studbook must be maintained so that the ancestry of individual animals within the program is known, and (2) Wherever possible without intense inbreeding, “purebred” animals of different subspecies should be maintained as well, and bred with other members of the same subspecies.

    I may take some flak for that opinion, but they way I see it, subspecies evolved when animals from within a larger genetic pool became isolated in some way and bred, isolated fron the “parent” population, generation after generation, until differences in type became established within the isolated subspecies. The subspecies, however, is still so closely related to the parent population that it is considered to be part of the same species. Sometimes the subspecies population becomes so small that intense inbreeding is unavoidable when only animals from that subspecies are bred together. Intense inbreeding concentrates disadvantageous mutations, and it does not help the animals individually nor the subspecies as a whole. In that case, judicious introduction of genetic material from another (preferably closely related) subspecies is justified.

    I am opposed to indiscriminate captive breeding of ANY wild animal, and I am opposed to interspecific breeding except for carefully controlled scientific research. But I’m not opposed to intraspecific breeding between subspecies when it is necessary to preserve the genetic diversity of the species.

  24. dogu4 responds:

    Thanks for the nod there Mystery Man. You and Kittenz, and this forum consistently add to the variety of “not so low” hanging fruit and I for one appreciate the opportunity for the informed laity to reach a bit instead of the typical “dumb-down” approach by erstwhile science reporters. I know that sometimes we all need that so I’ll take the the HighMinded and LowBrow together on the same menu.

    Relevant to that, I thought anyone interested in this level of discourse is probably also a reader of literary journalism in the style of John McPhee, as exemplified in his remarkable “Annals of the Ancient World”, and in the tradition of that work’s introduction to the literary world, the New Yorker has a very interesting article entitled “Darwin’s Surprise” by Michael Specter in which the state of research on human genetics is examined and there are some really good paradigm shifting observations there. It’s a little long for a magazine article but I’ve found it worthy on the scientific as well as the literate level.

    Thanks again, and especially to Loren for doin’ the heavy liftin’. Watch your back and bend from the knees.

  25. WVBotanist responds:

    A few thoughts on hybrids:
    The entire discussion becomes a tautology when you consider that viable offspring (particularly in animals, as opposed to the other kingdoms) of “hybrids” often violates the defining line between species. Often, the operative word that should be included is “normally” – that is, breeding that we as humans are accustomed to observing. Alternately, a molecular view may be used to define species, but is repeatedly misinterpreted (what molecular clock, and who winds it?) and certainly not uniform between taxanomic levels. So basically, the definition of a species amounts to little more than a common categorization that seems to represent the norm for a range of variables.

    Conservation efforts are markedly torn at this dichotomy; no doubt cryptozoological questions will be in the future. For example, to cite the Florida Panther once again – The infusion of new genetic stock (certainly viable, and not technically a hybrid) to the small Florida population is very arguably a good thing for preserving the Florida Panther as a group of individuals persisting and reproducing in the fringes of remaining habitat. They are, in fact, an obvious umbrella species. But only in S. Florida, scarcely north of Ft. Myers, despite regular telemetry data showing individuals roaming well north of Interstate 4. In S. Florida, a panther’s habitat is largely protected under the endangered species act, by virtue of likely harm to the species. Go outside of this range, but still in areas they are known to occur, and suddenly they are considered hybrids, or escaped pets, based largely on wacky analyses of trail cams, or morphometric analysis of footprints. Or wild guesses. But, as apparently viable individuals, functioning as panthers, they are afforded no real protection. Ask Sarasota County if they know of a panther near their most valuable planned developments. They will probably not have a yes or no answer, even though one has been documented there and no Section 7 or Section 10 review have been performed in that county regarding panthers. Why? Well, what is a species, anyway? How different are we from chimps?

    We certainly need names for things in science, but we should never lose sight of the complex and multivariate whole. Cryptozoologists are often those scientists who, in fact, have not lost sight of the endless possibilities.

  26. mystery_man responds:

    Dogu4- Thanks for the kind words. I fully enjoy getting involved with intelligent discussions that go for the “higher fruit” on the tree, as you eloquently put it. I have indeed read a lot of what you suggested there. Interesting stuff. Maybe this is the teacher in me talking (I teach high school science as well as doing my research) but I especially appreciate any literature that is able to distill complex ideas into terms that are more or less readily understandable and approachable to those who may not have any formal background in science, nor indeed any background at all. To me, it takes a special knack and understanding of the processes involved to do this. When scientific knowledge is able to be conveyed on a literate level, or to the layman, that to me is a wondrous thing. Hopefully I’ve been successful somewhat in my rather long posts here.

    Kittenz and WVBotanist- Great posts. You two gave my fingers a bit of a rest from the heavy typing. I agree with WVBotanist that the definition of species can be a pretty malleable thing and research constantly shifts paradigms in this area. Add to that the fact that you have your splitters and lumpers, and taxonomy becomes a tricky thing to say the least.

    Incidentally, I think the program to stabilize the Florida Panther population through interbreeding with a closely related species is generally a good thing. I am not intimately familiar with this particular program, but I have some thoughts. I think if it comes down to infusing this population with new genetic information from a close subspecies or letting a valuable predator decline due to decreased fitness through inbreeding, I say the former is the better way to go. I’m thinking that rather than split hairs over absolute species purity, which as WVBotanist says is not really a clear cut and exact thing, it is perhaps more important for the ecology as a whole to consider preserve an animal filling the important niche of a keystone predator. Looking at the big picture, that is higher priority for me, and that also relates as I said to any hybrid population that has filled a similarly important role within its habitat. If they can do that without diverging too much from the Florida panther’s own genetic “uniqueness”, then all the better. As Kittenz says, I may get flak from some for that, but in my opinion if the situation is dire, desperate measures are called for.

    While we are on the topic of hybrids, I have a little exercise for everyone who is interested. Some people have mentioned that some cryptids could be hybrids. I think so too, and the shunka wara’kin immediately springs to mind as a possibility. So what I’d like to see is what cryptids other posters here think might be hybrids. Of course there is no way to be sure and this is purely a speculative exercise, but I really am curious to hear any ideas. It might make for an interesting discussion.

  27. mystery_man responds:

    Oh and by the way, call me old fashioned, but I am rather partial to the naming of things in science. The naming and categorizations don’t always stick, and taxonomy can be very tricky, but I like the thought of trying to as reliably as possible categorize the biodiversity of the natural world. I enjoy trying to find where each species is unique, where it is the same as others, and how it fits into its own biological role, and then recognizing that uniqueness. For me it gives a group of animals with nearly identical traits some solid identity within the scientific landscape. I suppose I could be called a “splitter” in this sense. I wish to find a name for encompassing a given set of variables, although I realize how fruitless this is possibly bound to be. For me, it is of importance, for others not so much. Of course this is just my opinion and is completely debatable. It is all a matter of preference. That’s not to say that the whole is not important, and I think first and foremost one must look at the tapestry of nature and where each piece fits (or doesn’t).

    One of the things that fascinates me about hybrids, intermediate species, and speculation is that you have this branching out going on, a divergence, or a change from the “norm”. I like the examination of the differences between the “norm” and “unusual”, the juxtaposition between the accepted category of a species and the findings that challenge it. With hybrids, the blurring of species distinction and the sort of taxonomical grey area that can occur is of great interest even to someone like me, who tends to like those clear distinctions. To me, these things can teach us more about what a species actually is and sheds light on the seemingly infinite ability of life to shift, change, or adapt. In my opinion, a great deal of biological insight can be gained by looking at hybrids, and surprising or challenging finds are sure to be made in this area.

    The complexity of nature is vast to be sure, its workings often incredibly intricate. I suppose for me naming things is an attempt to bring some order to it all. But I do appreciate the endless possibilities. It is indeed one thing that got me interested in science and cryptozoology to begin with.

    Thanks to everyone taking the time to participate in the discussion on this topic and the ones who have shown interest. It pleases me that it was interesting enough to some to warrant its own thread, so thanks to Loren for doing that. Also thanks to Kittenz and Dogu4 for the stimulating conversation and posts, as always. I don’t want to leave anyone out, so I’ll just say all of the comments are appreciated and I am thankful to anyone who actually takes the time to make it through one of my (admittedly often long or drawn out) posts. 🙂

    Anyway, onwards we go, any ideas on my question posted earlier as to which cryptids could be hybrids?

  28. dogu4 responds:

    I’m not sure I follow all of it, but I do respect the voices that speak for the preservation of the planet’s biological legacy (much of which so far is still undiscovered and/or not understood) that has been so carelessly treated.

    As hybrids and the qualities that they contribute are part of a complex chaotic natural picture, I’m most interested in seeing a section of the original picture in its completeness. For that reason I’ve taken a great deal of interest in a number of re-wilding efforts around the world. Maybe there is an overlooked advantage to the modernization of our ability to use the environment. While population grows the land is being vacated in large regions. Technology no longer demand the labor intensive techniques of old and jobs have moved to the city. What to do with all the thousands of small empty farms, ranges and mines? I dream of the day when ranchers instead of haulin’ their cattle all over the parched western range land at subsidized efforts to produce some beef, when the ranchers become wildlife wardens and people fly in from all over the world to experience the american west, the vast herds of pronghorn and bison and huge flocks of birds. It would be comparable with the Serengeti and drive a tourism and eco-education experience driven economy that would put the current economic picture to shame for being so unimaginative and wasteful.

  29. mystery_man responds:

    Sorry, I meant to say “hybrids, intermediate species, and SPECIATION”, not “SPECULATION” in the beginning of the second paragraph of my previous post.

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