Behold: a zonkey is born

Here’s a nice hybrid for you, born only four days ago and sporting an adorable set of striped leggings:

A zonkey, the offspring of a cross between a zebra and a donkey, named “Khumba” has been born for the first time in Mexico on 21 April, as a zoo in the northern state of Tamaulipas reports. He weighed 26 kilograms and measured 70 centimeters at birth. Khumba’s mother, a female zebra whose name is “Rayas”, lives among exotic animals in the zoo, while his father, a an albino dwarfed blue-eyed donkey, lives in a nearby farm.

Since albinism is a genetically recessive trait, the zonkey shows the same coloration as a hybrid between a zebra and a non-albino donkey.

Wikipedia gives a surprising amount of information about zebra/equid hybrids, called “zebroids” as a whole. They can take occur not only with donkey parents, but also ponies (“zonys”) and horses (“zorses”). The females can be weakly fertile, but males are sterile. (The preferential sterility of the heterogametic sex is called “Haldane’s rule,” and is a problem I worked on for many years.) Sterility occurs largely because zebras and equids have different chromosome numbers, causing them to mispair during meiosis: the formation of eggs and sperm.

h/t: Vera

71 Comments

  1. Stephen Barnard
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    How two species with different chromosome numbers can viably reproduce is a wonder to me.

    It’s pretty much the same with mules (horse + donkey). Mules are prized over horses as mountain pack animals. They’re stronger, have better endurance, and are more sure footed; or so the packers believe. Is it a kind of supercharged hybrid vigor?

    • Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Hybrid vigor is where a hybrid has fewer inbreeding effects as they are heterozygous for mildly harmful recessive alleles seen in the parents.
      The mule is a bit different, and is considered an interesting example where the hybrid has some traits (in temperament) not seen in either parent.

    • noncarborundum
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      It’s sort of a shame that horse-donkey hybrids don’t follow the same naming convention as zebra-donkey hybrids. I’d love to see the headline “Behold: a honkey is born”.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      “How two species with different chromosome numbers can viably reproduce is a wonder to me.”

      Me too, although it has to be true since humans have 23 chromosome pairs and all the other great apes have 24.
      BTW I think this fact entails that there was a sort of “Adam” or “Eve” who would have had 2 chromosomes fused together, and then all humans would be descended from that individual (please, somebody correct me if this is wrong).

      • Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Yes, except for the Adam and Eve part of course!
        If anyone is interested you can see how the human chromosomes line up with their equivalent chromosomes in chimps, gorillas, and orangutans here. Look especially at chromosome #2. Our chromosome is the one on the far left in this group, and you can see that our #2 chromosome corresponds to two smaller chromosomes in the apes. It must be that two of our chromosomes fused together end-to-end after we split from the chimpanzee lineage.
        You can also make out various places where the banding pattern of chromosomes do not line up. These are where there are inversions in chromosomes in one or more of the species shown.
        A ‘humanzee’ hybrid might be alive, but one predicts that it will be sterile b/c it would be heterozygous for chromosome inversions. Inversion heterozygotes have difficulties in the meiotic cell divisions needed to form gametes.

        • Moarscienceplz
          Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

          You don’t agree that there must have been a single animal with fuse chromosomes that we all are descended from? Why not? Chromosomal fusion must be pretty rare, I don’t think it’s likely that there are multiple instances of it in human’s evolutionary history.

          • Moarscienceplz
            Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, “fused”.

          • Posted April 25, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

            ?? Of course it would have been a single individual. I did not mean to imply otherwise. It would have been a “chromosome #2 Eve”, or a “chromosome #2 Adam”.

  2. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Is there some point to crossing these two species? L

    • Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      From what I understand, this zebra and the donkey mated naturally of their own accord.

      • eric
        Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Well no not really. If one lives in a zoo and the other lives on an nearby farm, some human had to have the idea to put them in the same pasture for some reason.

        I guess the mating could’ve been unintentional (for example, if one of the zoo staff just thought it would be enriching for the zebra to have company), but it couldn’t have happened without a human making the decision to put them together.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          You could say the same about many human couples. My wife and I would not have met if a mutual friend had not decided to introduce us.

  3. Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    How many zonkeys were on the ark?

    • Merilee
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      Oh, man, these hybrids are gonna make the ark even more overcrowded!

      • Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        Actually, this would sort of half the # of ‘kinds’ needed to be loaded. Then God would make the hybrids fertile, of course.

        • pulseteresa
          Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          The Creation Museum had a zonkey when I visited 5 years ago. It was presented as “evidence” for the biblical “kind.”

          • Posted April 25, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

            Well, to borrow from one of our official phrases: Looks like I failed to spot the nightjar!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

            Check mate, creationists. Behold a new kind in nature! :D

    • Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      None when the animals got into the ark, quite a few when they got out of it!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      All one of them?

  4. JoeyM
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Thank you for bringing up Haldane’s Rule and hybrid sterility. I’ve been harping on this for years.

    Mules are the same way (i.e. the females more likely to be fertile than the males, just as haldane would have predicted)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mule#Fertility

    I’m sick of textbooks spreading the falsehood that mules are *always* sterile.

    • Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      I did not know that! Now, why do you suppose Haldane’s rule exists at all? Why should the homogametic sex be more fertile?

    • eric
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      The first thing to spring to mind when Jerry mentioned Haldane’s rule was, “I hope its named after him because he discovered it, not because he tried it.”

      • Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        That is a good joke, and I am going to steal it from you. :)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

          I’m not only going to steal it, I’m going to to tell it like he really did try it.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 26, 2014 at 6:35 am | Permalink

            Well, he did have a well-earned reputation for self experiment.
            To quote a signature line I saw recently (but it’s an old saying) : “erotic is using a feather ; kinky is using the whole chicken”

            • John Scanlon, FCD
              Posted April 26, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

              I thought it was ‘kinky’ and ‘perverse’ respectively, but that’s not authoritative.

    • jesse
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      You might throw in here the concept of the hinny: a lot of people don’t know that for a mule to be a mule, it has to have a horse mother and donkey father.
      If it’s the other way around, the offspring have some different characteristics. The Wikipedia pg. on the hinny seems to have some good info if someone wants to read more.

      BTW I saw a 12-mule hitch perform in Detroit at an Intl. Draft Horse Show and it was remarkable. All multi-horse hitches are remarkable, but watching the cheery, willing mules perform by among other things backing the wagon up to the “loading dock” and then swinging around from left to right by crossing their legs, all without moving the wagon, was awesome. Look here:

      • jesse
        Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        I will also add this youtube, of an 8-mule hitch… about 1:50 into the video you can really see the excellent maneuvers. For those who wonder why it’s necessary, well, when delivering goods in an alley or narrow street, one may need to swing the horses to the side to clear the way for others to pass by.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0h6Ok38m-5g

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Those were a joy to watch–thanks for posting!

          • jesse
            Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            It was very moving even just on the video – the care and precision that the owners have. And the dedication to a craft like that. The first vid announcer said that the Dr. driving the mules had been doing it 70 years. Quite an achievement. I believe he said he was from MI. I believe there are still a couple natl. and intl. draft horse events in MI that you could go to; maybe moved from Detroit to Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo. Some of the rigs are fancy. And if you can get to a Detroit Mounted Police performance, it’s also very stirring.

            • jesse
              Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

              Well I veered off topic there but really the world of horses and livestock is so amazingly huge and diverse.

              • Diane G.
                Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

                I’m glad you veered off topic. :) And thanks for the suggestions. When the kids were small we hit every county fair around, in season, and I began to learn to look for the draft horse/carriage horse/horse-team (whatever I should be calling these!) events. I was always amazed thinking of the hours and years people spent at these now anachronistic arts, and at the obvious animal/human bond and the sense of history one gets thinking of how vitally important draft animals used to be to society. Cats & dogs are far from the only animals we’ve co-evolved with! I will have to start seeking out such shows again.

                It’s also a bit of Americana one can be proud of. (Well, I know working equids have been important to innumerable cultures, but there are some unique US traditions.)

              • jesse
                Posted April 25, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

                One more thing I cannot resist linking to here is this Percheron 11-horse pyramid hitch, in PA. (and don’t thank me; send thanks to those horse owners for getting together to do it and to the people who put it up on youtube.)

              • Diane G.
                Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

                “… this Percheron 11-horse pyramid hitch…”

                Omigosh, they’re beautiful!

              • Posted April 26, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

                The lead horse, especially, has a great attitude.

                b&

              • jesse
                Posted April 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                The Percherons don’t naturally raise their feet up that far; I suspect the shoes are weighted, not an uncommon practice. Altho it gets over the top when one looks at the action of Saddlebreds and Tennessee Walkers, in my opinion. And chains as weights used to be used on Walkers; not sure what sorts of changes they may have made to the rules in recent years.

                As for the lead horse, they may have chosen him just for that reason, i.e., that his action is higher.

              • Diane G.
                Posted April 28, 2014 at 1:06 am | Permalink

                “The Percherons don’t naturally raise their feet up that far; I suspect the shoes are weighted, not an uncommon practice.”

                That takes a little bit of the bloom off the rose…but the horses do all look to be in great condition.

        • Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          It never occurred to me that draft teams are capable of moving in reverse.

          • jesse
            Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

            The amazing thing to me when I saw many of these in person was the way the driver has to manipulate the reins. The fingers are always moving; the more horses, the more reins to manipulate. On one of the vids they mentioned the driver was also using verbal signals.

            • Diane G.
              Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

              Oh, yes, that jumped out at me, too! How on earth does the driver keep them all straight, and for that matter, keep from dropping one?!

              I did hear the verbal cues; even recognized the “Haw.” :) (I suppose there was a Gee, too, but my volume was low.)

              • jesse
                Posted April 26, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

                Someone at a show let me drive a pair of horses once. I asked if I needed to “steer” them or if they knew what I wanted them to do. He laughed, said of course I needed to use the reins to tell them what to do. We went maybe 50 ft. and that was enough for me. And I’ll tell you, being up high on the wagon was a little intimidating, too. There are no seat belts there. Oh and regarding the invisible horse in the 11-horse hitch, I can usually count good, but can’t always type good : )

              • Diane G.
                Posted April 28, 2014 at 1:04 am | Permalink

                “Someone at a show let me drive a pair of horses once. I asked if I needed to “steer” them or if they knew what I wanted them to do. He laughed, said of course I needed to use the reins to tell them what to do. We went maybe 50 ft. and that was enough for me. And I’ll tell you, being up high on the wagon was a little intimidating, too. There are no seat belts there.”
                :)

                And I’ve wondered about those plain plank seats myself. Seems like people would go flying out at every bump in the road!

          • jesse
            Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            In competitions, they are judged on this. I did pick up that swinging and keeping your beasts in a straight line gets you better points than a sloppy, curvy swing.

          • jesse
            Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

            Oh one more thing I picked up: when swinging the horses, the goal is to not have the wagon move at all, because people are loading and unloading the back of the wagon. One is also judged on this.

    • gravityfly
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      So, is this zonkey sterile?

  5. Ann B.
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Does anyone know why only his legs are striped? Is it like the “points” on a Siamese cat?

    • jesse
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I do not know the answer to your question, but I did notice this baby does have what appears to be a double-mark where its donkey cross would be. I noticed that right away, and thought it had to do with the zebra genes.
      Here are pics of donkey crosses for comparison.

      https://www.google.com/search?q=donkey+cross&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=uKBaU-_SGcaE2gX7xoDIAw&ved=0CCUQsAQ&biw=880&bih=631

    • jesse
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Oh and upon further looking on google images, I found that there are stripey variations amongst the hybrids, perhaps due to genes, perhaps due to age *and* genes. Some have stripes all over, with a gray background.
      If you are at all interested in horse colors, Wikipedia can take you on a journey for hours and hours. It really is amazing.

    • Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      I too do not know, but what I have seen suggests this is typical of zonkeys and zeedonks, but not the zorse. The latter hybrid is lightly striped all over.
      To make it even odder, the quagga is an extinct species of zebra, and it was sort of the opposite. Striped body, and not striped in the legs.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      SJ Gould wrote several essays on zebras relating to ontogeny and phylogeny.
      See “What, if anything, is a Zebra?”,”How the Zebra get its Stripes”,and “Quaggas, Coiled Oysters and Flimsy Facts”.

  6. Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Very pretty, but I’d have called it a “zule”.

    • Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Imwas thinking a Donbra.

      Which opens the door to this rumination. Why is a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Standard Poodle called wither a “Golden doodle” or a “Goldie Poo” but not a “Poo Retriever”???

      • Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Sales.

        • Merilee
          Posted April 25, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          There is actually a mix between a bulldog and a shitzu called a bullshit. There was one at the kennel where I boarded my pooch.

          • Posted April 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

            I’m’a gonna have ta call, “bullshit,” on that one….

            b&

          • John Scanlon, FCD
            Posted April 26, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

            OK, I actually lolled so hard I almost rofled.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 26, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

        Which opens the door to this rumination.

        Surely that should be a fistula in to this rumination?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      I’d have called it Barbara, just ’cause.

  7. Secatore
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    “zebra/equid hybrids”

    I may be wrong here but I think Zebras are still regarded as equids.

  8. Helen Weetman
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Bah! I saw the title and thought it was going to be a cross between a zebra and a monkey.

  9. Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    He sure looks like an happy, healthy young equid. I don’t think he has even the slightest clue that he’s anything unusual.

    b&

  10. Roberto Aguirre Maturana
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    If the father is a donkey and the mother a zebra, I think this is not a zonkey, it’s a donkra.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      If it were female, should you name it Debra?

  11. Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I believe that in some humans the “fused” chromosomes are still separate, making reproduction less likely but not impossible. IIRC, something of the kind runs in Salman Rushdie’s family; see his memoir Joseph Anton

    • Merilee
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      That was an excellent book!

  12. Filippo
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    sub

  13. Posted April 26, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, The Middle East, Agriculture, History and Culture and commented:
    A series of these cute cross-breds have been born over the past years. Their existence leads me to wonder, in ancient Egypt, whether attempts to crossbreed might have either *just happened* or had been attempted by early Egyptians, especially from the predynastic and early dynastic site of Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt, where in early times a variety of both wild and domestic breeds were carefully buried, including an elephant, some aurochs (predomestic cattle of North Africa), and a variety of other creatures. Regarding the elephant, and aurochs, the site referenced below states
    — Perhaps not surprisingly the most prized appears to be the ten-year-old male African elephant (Tomb 33) and the aurochs (Tomb 19), both requiring extraordinary efforts to acquire as probably neither were locally available at the time. Both were found alone in large, fenced tombs, wrapped in vast amounts of linen and matting. Whether they were endowed with additional grave goods remains unclear, but both were given a substantial final meal, as a great deal of it was still present inside them. In addition to half-digested items of settlement debris, detailed analysis of the botanical content of the elephant’s final meal indicate that he dined on river plants, acacia twigs and emmer wheat, both chaff and grains, suggesting he was well maintained…
    I believe some DNA studies have been conducted – or attempted – on some of the animal remains but do not have details here with me. More details can be found here –

    http://www.hierakonpolis-online.org/index.php/explore-the-predynastic-cemeteries/hk6-elite-cemetery


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  1. […] just been given a preliminary interview by the BBC on the zonkey, of all things—the zebra/donkey hybrid I wrote about this morning. Based on this (they always check you out to see how you come across), the Beeb decided to […]

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