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Lucas Adams 

8 Hybrid Animals With Awesome Portmanteau Names

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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.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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