Last night I watched an episode on Nat Geo Wild (channel 108 for you local digital Comcast subscribers) called “Animal Oddities”. These included the Goliath Tarantula (Ick!), the Japanese Giant Salamander, the liger, and the platypus.
A few words about the liger first. The liger is a hybrid between a male lion and a female tiger. A hybrid between a male tiger and a female lion is called a tigon or tiglon. (As usual,the males always get first billing.) But here’s a couple of factoids I never knew. The liger is the largest feline known, and here’s why. A female lion has a growth-limiting genetic factor which female tigers lack. Without it, ligers can and do grow larger than both parents. They are enormous.
Ligers are not considered a legitimate species, because theoretically, it never occurs in nature. Presently it only occurs in private breeding centers. But to that I say, not to put too fine a scientific point on it, Bullshit. If it can happen in captivity, it can happen in the wild too. It doesn’t happen because lions and tigers inhabit very different environments. But if the environment were to change, say as a result of (gasp!) global warming, who’s to say that wouldn’t change? And what about mules? Are they a “recognized species”?
Here’s the other thing. A male liger is sterile. But a female liger is not. She can mate, I presume with either a male lion or a tiger, in any case, she is capable of having offspring. In which case it’s called a liliger or a titigon. Are you confused yet? Yeah, me too. I was pretty stumped by the time we got to female ligers. But one of the arguments the program made was that if such a “natural” mating were possible, it would be self-limiting due to the sterility issue. But not if female liligers and titigons could also reproduce, which brought me to the limits of my imagination.
But of the oddest animals, the platypus takes the cake. It’s like a mishmash of species all thrown together with a few surprises of its own. As Nat Geo describes it, it has the bill of a duck, the feet of an otter, the tail of a beaver, and it lays eggs. Not to mention it has venomous claws on its hind feet. It’s classifed as a mammal, which kind of surprised me. Apparently I had forgotten Zoology 101. I thought to be a mammal you had to give live birth. It turns out all you have to have is external hair and mammary glands. The platypus is actually one of five mammals that lay eggs, but four of them are spiny anteaters. The platypus is in a category all its own.
Now here’s what I find strange. The platypus only inhabits the eastern coast of Australia and also Tasmania. Why? To me it seems they have all the perfect combinations of species across the board. They can survive on land and in water, they’re omnivorous, and venomous. They ought to be able to give cockroaches a run for their money in terms of survivability. Of course, in spite of the duck bill, they can’t fly. And they obviously can’t swim for long distances. But I’m surprised that some human hasn’t tried to export them elsewhere, for some perceived cure to some other problem. Like kudzu was.
Until we figure out the mysteries of nature and genetics, let’s all hail the mighty platypus.