Crossbreeding is quite common these days, whether we realize it or not. Probably the most common use for crossbreeding is for pet dogs and cats. Perhaps there aren’t a whole lot of new species of cats and dogs being created, but that is ultimately how we have such a variety in our modern world. Produce is also aided greatly by mixing two strains to create a new one, creating a much wider array of available fruits and vegetables. Though crossbreeding only works if the two animals are of the same family, the results can be quite astonishing.
While you might not think that lions and tigers (and bears, oh my) would get along, it turns out they’re quite happy to mate with one another. While the phenomenon has been reported solely in captivity, this may only be due to the fact that lions and tigers don’t live anywhere near one another in the wild.
So what do you call the offspring of a lion and a tiger? Well, it depends on which one of the parents is male, and which one is female. If a male lion mates with a female tiger, the resulting offspring is known as a “Liger”.
If the opposite happens, then the offspring is called a “Tigon” or a “Tiglon”. Since, however, the likelihood of the offspring of any crossbreed being fertile is slim to none, they aren’t able to continue producing more ligers and tigons. There have been reported cases where a female is fertile, which means she could mate with either a tiger or a lion, but there have yet to be any cases where the male is able to reproduce.
Between the two animals, the Liger definitely gets the better deal. They will generally end up with all of the good characteristics of both animals, whereas the tigon will get all of the less desirable ones. Growing, on average, as large as both parents put together, the liger enjoys swimming, and is a very social animal. The liger is also much more likely to grow a distinct mane. Liger cubs are also much more likely to live past birth than their counterparts, with some reports indicating that it’s not uncommon for a liger to live to be 20 or more years old.
Both the liger and the tigon have been around at least since the turn of the 19th century. The earliest reports of ligers dates back to 1799 in India, when Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire made a colour plate of the resulting offspring of a lion and a tiger.
The largest living liger, and by default the largest cat in the world is aptly named Hercules, and lives in Miami, Florida and weighs in at 410kg (904lbs), though he is not the largest on record. In 1973, Guinness World Records reported that a male liger was a whopping 798kg (1,759 lbs)!
As you might expect, the crossbreeding of these two animals, which serves no purpose other than to say “Look what we can do!” is rather controversial in some groups. Numerous religious groups have spoken out against the practice, citing that if God wanted ligers and tigons in existence, He would have created them along with the rest of the animals. As a result of this controversy, the breeding of ligers and tigons is generally done in developing nations. However, as cited earlier in this article, some of these peculiar creatures reside within North America for the bewilderment and amusement of curious people.