Over the course of millions of years (according to the scientifically verified theory of evolution) one type of animal may diverge into two or more very different species. This is part of Natural Selection, and occurs when different populations develop dissimilar traits to help them survive in their specific ecological niche.
Sometimes two of those diverged species can reconvene to create a hybrid. Some of these hybrids are born unable to reproduce, but every once in a while they will go on to become a new, and in some cases a more effective species.
Here are some of the coolest natural and artificial hybrids you might be able to see:
Many years ago, wolves and coyotes diverged from a common ancestor, started hunting prey, and developed their own unique identities. However, after Europeans settled in the Americas, humans decided to decimate wolf populations. Numbers got so low that the former apex predators of North America could hardly find each other to mate.
Eventually, wolves decided to settle for their scrawnier, more clever cousins: coyotes. The result is the coywolf — a half-wolf, half-coyote canid amalgam.
Coywolves are different than coyotes in that they will hunt larger game, and different than wolves because they will take greater risks. This has unfortunately resulted in more encounters with humans and the animals they keep, which has led people to fear and even hate them.
Polar bears and grizzlies were once a single species, but geographical and climatic differences caused them to develop very different physical characteristics.
As the climate warms, polar bears — who typically spend their days on floes of ice — are being forced to move south in search of food. South is where the grizzlies live.
As it so happens, when these grizzlies and polars cross paths, they occasionally can get quite friendly. That’s how you get a pizzly (or grolar) bear (depending on which species is the father and which is the mother).
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Although lions and tigers are so geographically distant that they will never meet in the wild, two of the largest big cats have created offspring in the past — the result is the liger (or tigon, depending on the situation).
Unlike the coywolf and pizzly bear, the liger is not capable of reproduction. However, specimens do measure out to be even larger than either tigers or lions, sometimes reaching lengths of up to twelve feet (3.7 meters) nose-to-tail, making it the largest big cat known to exist.
Mules have been around for a long time — probably much longer than any other type of hybrid — and are a result of breeding between a male donkey and a female horse. Like the liger, mules are infertile, and cannot bear offspring — but that hasn’t stopped people from stepping in to perpetuate their species.
These equines have the strength of a horse, and the intelligence (and ears) of a donkey — which makes mules very versatile farmhands. they gained popularity in the nineteenth century, and after a resurgence in the 1960s have been going strong ever since.
Spotted owls (a threatened species) and barred owls have long had separate habitats, much like polars and grizzlies. However, due to deforestation in the Pacific Northwest United States, their ecosystems have converged, resulting in species hybridization.
While hybrid species don’t always cause concern, some ecologists are worried that spotted owls, who are protected under the Endangered Species Act, might breed themselves out of existence.
Sparred owls are not protected. If they don’t thrive, the spotted owl genome may disappear forever.
This frog appears to have the head of a dog. Huh.
(Okay so this one is obviously a joke — but hey, maybe someday.)