A honking big cat

From the fantastic Milky Way Scientists Facebook page, meet the world’s largest living individual cat. It’s a big one!

Baby Liger Aries Joins Record Holder Big Brother Hercules

Hercules, famous for being the Guiness Book of World Record holder of largest cat, is now also a big brother – and at 900 pounds and standing at almost 6 feet tall, he is a really BIG brother!

Aries arrived four weeks ago at the Myrtle Beach Safari wildlife reserve in South Carolina. Aries, like Hercules, is a hybrid of a male lion and a tigress. [JAC: this is the cross that produces “ligers” of Napoleon Dynamite fame; the reverse cross produces “tiglons”.]

(T.I.G.E.R.S.) estimates that Aries will gain almost one pound a day (imagine having a “baby” that does that!)

The coupling of a lion and a tiger is almost unheard of outside of captivity, mostly because the two species are located on two different continents.

This last sentence is wrong: there are still a few lions native to Asia: they’re found in the Gir Forest of India.

Heeerre’s Hercules (And Aries):

The Wikipedia article on ligers (link above) says this about Hercules:

Jungle Island, an interactive animal theme park in Miami, is home to a liger named Hercules, the largest non-obese liger, who is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest living cat on Earth, weighing over 410 kg (904 lb).[7] Hercules was featured on the Today Show, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper 360, Inside Edition and in a Maxim article in 2005, when he was only 3 years old and already weighed 408.25 kg (900 lb). Hercules is completely healthy and is expected to live a long life. The cat’s breeding is said to have been a complete accident. Sinbad, another liger, was shown on the National Geographic Channel. Sinbad was reported to have the exact weight of Hercules.

Can these hybrids be fertile? Wikipedia suggests that one such hybrid did produce an offspring, but I think the documentation in general is spotty. The New World Encyclopedia says that male ligers are sterile but female ligers are often fertile. This is in accordance with Haldane’s rule, the generalization that if, in a cross between two different species, only one sex is sterile or inviable (the other being fertile and/or viable), the afflicted sex is the heterogametic one—the one whose sex chromosomes are different (i.e., XY in the case of ligers). In birds and butterflies, the heterogametic sex is female, and those are the sterile and inviable ones in species crosses. I spent much of my career trying to understand the reasons for this “rule.”

47 Comments

  1. Posted July 26, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I can haz double cheezeburger?

    • lisa
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      you might want to supersize that

    • Dale
      Posted July 27, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      No kidding. Double wit fries. I had posted that this must be “ceiling cat” but the post seems to have disappeared. Ceiling cat does work in mysterious ways.

  2. the Siliconopolitan
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    This is in accordance with Haldane’s rule, the generalization that if, in a cross between two different species, only one sex is fertile or viable, that sex is the heterogametic one—the one whose sex chromosomes are different (i.e., XY in the case of ligers). In birds and butterflies, the heterogametic sex is female, and those are the sterile and inviable ones in species crosses. I spent much of my career trying to understand the reasons for this “rule.”

    Do you mean that the heterogametic sex is sterile?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Whoops, big flub. I fixed,thx.

      • the Siliconopolitan
        Posted July 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. I thought I’d misunderstood somewhere.

  3. shakyisles
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone heard of the cat “Hercules Morse, as big as a horse” from the ‘Hairy McClary’ series of kids books written by Lynley Dodd?

    Now I know Hercules is real!!

  4. Posted July 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Are they breeding ligers deliberately? That would seem rather unethical given that both parental species are endangered.

    • lisa
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Yes, they are. There is a decently lucrative market for them as privately owned pets and zoos. I find this disgusting, unethical and cruel. I am assuming that studying their genetics and behavior has some scientific value and breeding them in a controlled research facility isn’t too terrible a thing, but the marketing to private individuals should be (and is in some areas) illegal with a hefty penalty for all involved. In the areas where the ownership of wild animals is allowed, the authorities need to be much more vigilant in giving the permits and make frequent inspections of the animals’ environment and physical well-being. Ligers are magnificent looking animals and appear to be a great deal less aggressive than ‘naturally produced’ big cats, but the natures of both lions and tigers have shown repeatedly that, even born and bred in captivity and interacting on a daily basis with the same humans, they are wild animals and will behave as such no matter how ‘loving’ a home the owners provide The expense of their upkeep over time usually results in the owners being unable to care for them properly. Half starved big cats are most often the ones that eat their caretakers or break out of their confinement and eat someone else. Once unconfined, even when they pose no threat to humans they are almost always destroyed. Those that do not escape their confinement are frequently subjected to living in small and usually filthy cages where they are unable to move about, greatly under fed and receive no medical attention.
      I have not seen a great deal about Liger/ human relationships in a ‘pet’ situation, so I can’t say how often there might be serious or fatal incidents. I can only assume the offspring would not have a drastically different nature than its parents. But Ligers are much more expensive to keep; they require very large amounts of food and a careful environment because they are unable to adjust well to temperature changes. Ligers grow to enormous size (as you’ve seen) so it is impossible for them to live in the wild. Because they have no way to dissipate the heat caused by their metabolism and with the weight they must move, they cannot run more than short distances and so cannot hunt. Even if one should manage a kill, it would need to hunt constantly to satisfy its needs. (Probably why there aren’t many out there even if the population of both parent species did intersect more. Can’t see them making the evolutionary cut.)
      The tigons are a cat of a very different color (metaphorically.) Even when they reach their full growth, they are noticeably smaller that both adult lions and tigers but still a lot harder to distinguish from their parent species. Studies have shown that they are frequently fertile. They could probably adapt to life in the wild without any more difficulty than any other big cat. They don’t appear to have the marketability as ligers, probably because of this. But they are still bred in unnatural circumstances for private ownership. Breeding and keeping them or any other wild animal is the height of narcissistic egocentric behavior. I hope someday people will learn to regard them as living beings and not stuffed animal toys.

      • Dominic
        Posted July 27, 2012 at 2:19 am | Permalink

        “I hope someday people will learn to regard them as living beings and not stuffed animal toys.” Yes!

        • suwise3
          Posted August 5, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          That’s how I also feel about those who breed miniature horses. (Not ponies, horses.) Breeders have gotten so good at it, they now look- and act- just like mini-horses. Never thought too much about it, until I saw a video of a rancher working with a herd of the minis. They reared and struck out and fought back, just like a full-size horse would do. Except now, they are dealing with Godzilla, who can just scoop them up in his arms. This made me incredibly sad.

  5. Skepcheck
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Just curious… Do we know what the reasons for this rule are?

    • RF
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      My guess would be that the heterogametic sex is the “default” one. The Y chromosome disrupts the female development, but doesn’t correctly complete the male development.

      • Posted July 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

        The post ends like a movie where the producers have already planned a sequel :-). Can we expect a post explaining the possible reasons why the heterogametic are the ones that turn out to be infertile?

        • gravelinspector
          Posted July 27, 2012 at 1:54 am | Permalink

          Err, because in a homo-gametic cross, if there’s one gene or allele that doesn’t work properly with genes / alleles from the other species, then there’s little chance of there being a working gene / allele on the other gene in the sex chromosome pair. However in a heterogametic cross, if the “X” chromosome has a nonfunctioning gene/ allele (say fubarx), then there is at least a reasonable chance of there being a working version on the “Y” chromosome (fubary).
          At least, that’s my understanding ; IANA-Geneticist.
          (The [sub] element works in my browser ; for WordPress … ?)

          • gravelinspector
            Posted July 27, 2012 at 1:55 am | Permalink

            … Bur [sub] doesn’t work here, and presumably [super] doesn’t either.

      • Posted July 27, 2012 at 1:52 am | Permalink

        I would have guessed that the heterogametic set has fewer spare parts to work with.

  6. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Photo caption:

    Yes, that is faux leopard skin on my girlfriend’s blouse… WHAT OF IT???

  7. gbjames
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Are we sure that this isn’t a photo of a little tiny person?

    • Dominic
      Posted July 27, 2012 at 2:21 am | Permalink

      🙂 Very good!

  8. Prof.Pedant
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Somehow Hercules’ legs look shorter than a lion or tiger’s legs. And he does look a bit on the chunky side….

    • steve oberski
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Cube/square law at work here.

      Think of an elephant’s legs.

    • Dominic
      Posted July 27, 2012 at 2:22 am | Permalink

      I expect he will get arthritis or joint problems at some point. The body is deeper at the chest – no wonder it could not run much.

  9. Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Recently, I looked up miniature milk cows, thinking I’d like to have one: Just enough milk production for me and my cats. Just imagine a miniature tiger or lion, as docile as that liger looks, and sharing the milk with him/her. Now, that would be sweet. As for the cows, seems recent breeding made them large to increase milk productiona and profits. I got the impression that miniatures are closer to “heirloom” versions (as in, “heirloom tomatoes”). Might there be an “heirloom” small lion or tiger?

    • Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Just dreaming, folks. Don’t take these dreams of mine too seriously.

    • steve oberski
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Well, there are miniature guide horses for the blind.

      • gbjames
        Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        Can you milk them?

        • the Siliconopolitan
          Posted July 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

          Well, half of them.

  10. Hempenstein
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Is male the heterogametic sex for all mammals? How about monotremes?

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted July 27, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      Monotremes are… different. Google Scholar is very useful, and quicker to provide answers than even this ‘website’. 🙂

  11. jake
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    a very interesting website on hybridity with lots of great pics and stories, and much more about ligers and tigons: http://www.messybeast.com/

  12. B.R.
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Lol, at the tit;e, I was expecting a really fat house-cat, not a predator. Nice surprise.

    • rmw
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      Where do you get the idea that housecats aren’t predators? My herd make very short work of any flies, ants, spiders, etc. that wander into the house. 😉

    • cannonbeast
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but allowing your cat to leave you house is probably the worst thing that can happen to your local bird population. Domesticated cats are perfectly capable of killing.

      • Me
        Posted July 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

        Um, your local bird population is probably only there because they are rebounding from the relentless destruction of their habitat through human development, noise pollution, and pesticides that destroy their food sources. Folks like to hate on domesticated cats b/c the cats are foolish enough to share what they’ve killed. If each of us were accountable for the birds we’ve “killed”, we wouldn’t be talking about cats at all.

        • gbjames
          Posted July 27, 2012 at 5:04 am | Permalink

          Some of us employ house cats to help do our killing.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted July 27, 2012 at 2:04 am | Permalink

        Domesticated cats are perfectly capable of killing.

        Including the ones that have been mutilated by amputating their fingertips and fingernails (a.k.a. claws)?
        I’m not in any way advocating the practice, unless the humans who propose it have had the equivalent operation preformed on themselves, lived with it for a couple of months, and are happy to have other sentient organisms live the same way. And then have to sign the agreement manually, not digitally.
        (Yes, the several month wait will make re-attaching the removed human phalanges implausible. That is not accidental.)

        • gravelinspector
          Posted July 27, 2012 at 2:07 am | Permalink

          Toe-tips and toenails too, of course. For the humans testing the operation, the prognosis for ability to walk is fair ; no small number of mountaineers have lost many / most distal pedal phalanges, yet managed to retain walking and rock-climbing function.
          No get-out clause there.

        • rmw
          Posted July 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

          Yes, even a declawed cat can still be a formidable foe against rodents and small birds. My first cat was front declawed and every day would lovingly “gift” us with a dead mouse in the driveway. He did this up til the day he died around 15 years of age. (How he managed to live that long, being primarily outdoors with half his defenses gone, I will never know. Also, FWIW, I now keep my cats indoors and with all their claws.)

          • gravelinspector
            Posted July 30, 2012 at 4:03 am | Permalink

            I would have thought only 1/3 to 1/4 of his defences were amputated : teeth are much more formidable than claws.
            None of which defends the amputation ; glad to hear that you’ve revised your behaviour.

  13. Sesu
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    I’d wager that there is a similar mechanism to the IGF2/Igf2 imprinting in mice at work here. Although, I’m not sure if it has been explored or not. A male lion is under severe sexual selection and adaptations to sequester more of his mates’ resources would be highly advantageous. Especially since he would only have a few years as head of a pride (assuming he got that far). Lionesses presumably have a counteradaptation to prevent fetuses from stealing too many of their resources, but female tigers might not. Hence gigantor Ligers

  14. Posted July 27, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Is there are rule (or perhaps a mere guideline or correlation?) about hybrids and body size? Why are ligers so big?

  15. Posted July 27, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    “tiglon”?

    /@

  16. Clive
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    “Can these hybrids be fertile? Wikipedia suggests that one such hybrid did produce an offspring, but I think the documentation in general is spotty. ”

    Nah, you’re thinking of leopards.

  17. Jim Thomerson
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Interspecific hybrids tend to have characteristics intermediate between the parent species, characteristics like one parent but not the the other, and vice versa, and unique characteristics not seen in either parent species.


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