8 Hybrid Animals With Awesome Portmanteau Names

Lucas Adams 
Lucas Adams 

The most famous hybrid animal is the liger—but there are a few crossed creatures you probably didn't know about.

1. WHOLPHINS

Although there are frequent unconfirmed reports of them in the wild, only one pure wholphin is currently confirmed to exist. Her name is Kekaimalu—which means "from the peaceful ocean"—and she's a resident of Sea Life Park, Hawaii. Her parents were quite the odd couple: When staffers placed a 2000-pound false killer whale and a 400-pound Atlantic bottlenose dolphin in the same tank, nobody expected them to mate. Kekaimalu's surprise birth on May 15, 1985 made international headlines.

Another wholphin had previously been bred at Sea World, Tokyo in 1981, but that animal lived just 200 days. Kekaimalu, however, is still going strong. At almost 11 feet in length, she’s more lightly colored than a false killer whale, but darker than a bottlenose. Though her first calf died young, a second calf lived for nine years, and in 2004, Kekaimalu had a healthy daughter by a male dolphin: Kawili ‘Kai, another star attraction at Sea Life Park. 

2. CAMAS

Lucas Adams

In 1999, Dr. Lulu Skidmore and her team at Dubai’s Camel Reproduction Center set out to create an animal that was part Old World camel and part New World llama. The goal was utilitarian: “The main aim was to see if we could get the best of both species,” she said. “We thought [that] the long coat of a llama and the strength of a camel would make for a very useful animal.”

It was soon discovered that their male llamas couldn’t impregnate female camels, and the reverse approach proved anatomically impossible. In the end, Skidmore and her team used artificial insemination to impregnate a female camel. The result was a male cama they dubbed Rama. Since Rama's birth, a few other camas been been born using the same strategy.

3. CATTALO

Lucas Adams

Over the past 200 years, various ranchers have crossed American bison and domestic cows. Among them was Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones, a Kansas resident who, in the late 19th century, saw that cattle were ill-equipped for the harsh winters of the Great Plains. Hybrids, he figured, would be more resilient.

Jones started cross-breeding the two species in 1906. He did so on a patch of land that lies near present-day Grand Canyon National Park—where so-called cattalo have become a menace. (Not to be confused with beefalo, another hybrid: Cattalo are hybrids that have a predominately bison appearance, while beefalo are those that are only three-eighths bison.) As park superintendent Dave Uberuaga told the Associated Press, “The massive animals have reduced vegetation in meadows to nubs, traveled into Mexican spotted owl habitat, knocked over walls at American Indian cliff dwellings below the North Rim, defecated in lakes, and left ruts in wetlands.” The local population grows by a whopping 50 percent every year.

4. LEOPONS 

Lucas Adams

In Africa, leopards and lions cross paths quite frequently, so a wild-born hybrid is possible—but so far, all documented leopons have been produced in captivity, and the last known leopon specimen died in 1985. The brown-spotted, reddish-yellow creatures were larger than your average leopard—in fact, they were almost as big as lionesses—and had tufted tails. Males, like their leonine ancestors, had beards and manes. Leopons are considered sterile—though, granted, nobody's had the opportunity to try and breed them since the mid-'80s.

5. COYWOLVES

Lucas Adams

If you live in eastern North America, you may have spotted one of these canines. Sometimes called woyotes, they’re a western coyote/eastern grey wolf mix. The hybrid's beginnings trace back to when European settlers first arrived on the continent. The settlers, who viewed the eastern grey wolves as a nuisance, hunted the animals to near-extinction. As the wolf population dwindled, coyotes began moving in from the west to exploit the vacancy. Eventually, they entered one of the wolves’ final strongholds: southern Ontario.

Around 50 to 70 years ago, that area became the coywolf’s probable birthplace. These new creatures have longer legs, bigger paws, stronger snouts, and bushier tails than normal coyotes do. Like wolves, they’re capable of hunting in packs. But while lupines aren’t cut out for cities or suburbs, coywolves have proven quite adaptable and embrace metropolitan lifestyles.

6. ZONKEYS

Lucas Adams

Donkey/zebra hybrids are nothing new; Charles Darwin even wrote about them in an 1859 edition of On the Origin of Species. As with mules, zonkeys are born sterile—at least for the most part. Darwin did report on a zonkey that had successfully mated with a mare, thus combining the genes of three equine species. However, nobody has since been able to breed one with anything else (including other zonkeys). Captive zonkeys can currently be found at zoos in Mexico and Italy.

7. YAKOW

Lucas Adams

Another bovine hybrid, yakows (a.k.a. dzo and dzomos) are a common sight in Nepal. Larger and stronger than both yaks and cows, the beasts of burden also release significantly more milk. At high altitudes, yakows are the ideal livestock: They combine a yak’s thin air tolerance with a cow’s relative agility. Farmers have learned that while males cannot successfully reproduce, females can.

8. GROLAR BEARS

Lucas Adams

Thanks to climate change, the native ranges of grizzly and polar bears are increasingly overlapping. The result? An influx of muscular, sand-colored grolar bears. According to Brendan Kelly, a University of Alaska marine biologist, free-roaming specimens are a fairly new phenomenon. “We’ve known for decades that, in captivity, grizzly bears and polar bears will hybridize,” he told PSMag. But there were no confirmed wild grolar sightings until a hunter gunned one down in 2006. Subsequent DNA testing revealed the abnormal heritage of his curious prize.

Grolars tend to have both a grizzly’s hump and a polar bear’s elongated neck. Zoo keepers have noted that captives usually behave more like the great white ursids. When presented with a new toy, they’ll stamp on it with both of their front paws—the very same technique that polar bears use to break open seal dens. And a 2013 study on bears living on Alaska's Admiralty, Baranof, and Chicagof Islands showed that all of the bears were natural hybrids.

All illustrations by Lucas Adams.

The Time German and Russian WWI Soldiers Banded Together to Fight Wolves

iStock.com/567185
iStock.com/567185

During the winter of 1917, Russian and German soldiers fighting in the dreary trenches of the Great War’s Eastern Front had a lot to fear: enemy bullets, trench foot, frostbite, countless diseases, shrapnel, bayonets, tanks, sniper fire. Oh, and wolves.

In February of that year, a dispatch from Berlin noted that large packs of wolves were creeping from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia into the interior of the German Empire, not far from the front lines. Like so many living creatures, the animals had been driven from their homes by the war and were now simply looking for something to eat. “As the beasts are very hungry, they penetrate into the villages and kill calves, sheep, goats, and other livestock,” the report, which appeared in the El Paso Herald, says. “In two cases children have been attacked by them.”

According to another dispatch out of St. Petersburg, the wolves were such a nuisance on the battlefield that they were one of the few things that could bring soldiers from both sides together. “Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded,” the report says, according to the Oklahoma City Times. “Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.” It was an unspoken agreement among snipers that, if the Russians and Germans decided to engage in a collective wolf-hunt, all firing would cease.

Take this July 1917 New York Times report describing how soldiers in the Kovno-Wilna Minsk district (near modern Vilnius, Lithuania) decided to cease hostilities to fight this furry common enemy:

"Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance. But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops.

"As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague. For a short time there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken. The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered."

Afterward, the soldiers presumably returned to their posts and resumed pointing their rifles at a more violent and dangerous enemy—each other.

Think You Know Sharks? Try to Sort the Real Species From the Fake Ones

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