H ybrids fascinate people. There is something about the crossing of one variety of animal with another that stirs the imagination.
In the world of the outdoors, hybrid animals turn up from time to time and cause quite a bit of excitement. Other than shooting a banded bird, there is nothing more exciting to a duck hunter than taking an unusual looking hybrid.
In my years of covering the outdoors for this publication, I have run photos of mallard/pintail, teal/wood duck and Ross/Snow goose hybrids.
An article published by the Vancouver Natural History Society in 1994, says that of all birds, waterfowl are the most prone to hybridization with more than 400 hybrids documented.
“The mallard which tends to hybridize more than any other duck has hybridized with about 50 species of ducks and geese. The wood duck comes in second, with hybridization records for about 26 other species,” they reported.
“The mallard’s proclivity for hybridization stems from a number of factors. It is abundant; it has many close relatives; and in city parks and sanctuaries it often suffers from an oversupply of males, who then consort with females of other species.”
“I have a mallard/pintail hybrid that people sometimes ask whether I made it here in the studio. When I tell them it’s a natural hybrid a hunter brought in, some of them cannot believe it. It’s pretty unique,” said taxidermist Bubba Andres of Winnie in an interview I conducted with him a few years ago.
This particular bird has a long neck like a pintail, a short, gray beak like a pintail, a green head like a mallard, a body with feathers patterned equal parts mallard, equal parts pintail and a “sprig” feather that curls up like a mallard’s tail feathers.
“It’s something else,” Andres said.
The Trans Pecos region of Texas has isolated populations of whitetail/mule deer hybrids. According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the long-term effects are unknown. For most areas, the extent of hybridization also is not known.
“The highest incidence of hybridization in the Trans-Pecos occurs in the eastern part of the region where high populations of mule deer and white-tailed deer coexist. Using a technique called “polyacrylamidel electrophoresis,” Stubblefield estimated that up to 14 percent of deer may be hybrids where both species occupy the same range, although the average occurrence of hybrids was only about five percent.”
TPWD said antler characteristics, tail coloration, and ear length are not reliable in recognizing hybrids.
“First generation hybrids often can be identified by the length of the metatarsal gland that is located on the outside of the rear leg between the hock and the hoof. It typically will measure about ¾-inch long in whitetails and about four inches long in mule deer.”
“The metatarsal gland of hybrids is intermediate in length, measuring about two inches long. Second generation hybrids cannot be identified by their appearance. The predominant successful breeding among hybrids is between white-tailed bucks and mule deer does, but interbreeding also can occur between mule deer bucks and white-tailed does. Hybrids appear to have at least a limited degree of fertility.”
Vanderpool rancher Thompson Temple has unique hybrids on his property he is calling “Hill Country Bighorns”.
“Milt Sanburg outside of Montrose, Co. had a herd of mouflon sheep. Rocky Mountain bighorn rams from the nearby national forest periodically came over and bred a number of ewes. The result was 10 to 15 rams and ewes that were 1/2 bighorn and 1/2 mouflon. The rams were very impressive,” Temple said.
“Alan Baier of Collbran, Colorado and I met with the Colorado Fish and Game. They were anxious to get the crossbreeds out of Colorado. An agreement was reached to transport the sheep to my ranch in Texas.”
In recent years he has attempted to replace the mouflon portion of the sheep with a larger breed of sheep—stumberg sheep. “I have also purchased urial rams to do the same thing,” Temple noted.
His goal is to have a species very similar to Rocky Mountain bighorns that hunters can pursue for an affordable fee. Bighorns cost upwards of $50,000 to hunt in some cases. Temple wants hunters to have a bighorn-like experience at a minute fraction of the cost.
Plenty of hybrids exist in the fish world as well.
A study conducted in Minnesota found that out of 22 lake studies, 20 had hybrid black/white crappie. In fact, last year a record-sized crappie caused controversy there because it was believed to be a hybrid. The study found that most of the hybrids would be classified by looks as a black crappie but that their size would be slightly larger.
Some hybrids are created.
Take for example in the 1990s The Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (MDWFP) and the University of Mississippi teamed up to create a sterile crappie that would not overpopulate a small impoundment. The result was the Magnolia Crappie.
“This crappie is a cross between the female white crappie and the male black-striped black crappie The black-striped crappie has a dark stripe from the dorsal fin down the top of the head and mouth to the throat. This is a naturally occurring color variation.
The offspring retain this black stripe making it easy for biologists to monitor the population after stocking. Because this crappie cannot reproduce they may put more energy into growth and may grow larger than a normal fish in a similar environment.”
An article in NOAA’s “Marine Fisheries Review” notes that in 1983 Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials hybridized black and red drum.
“About 500,000 fertilized eggs were produced by a female black drum and a male redfish earlier in 1983. The resulting fry were placed in ponds until they reached about 1/2 inch in length, and then were stocked experimentally in Lake Creek Reservoir near Waco. Nick Carter, inland fisheries research coordinator in Austin, said although subsequent netting surveys failed to retrieve any of the hybrids, he believes the fish may have gone into deep water areas out of the reach of nets.
“We are fairly optimistic about the hybrid drum because they are easy to produce and appear to have high egg fertilization and survival rates,” Carter noted. “The fish we stocked in Lake Creek appeared to be in excellent shape.”
In the article Carter said the hybrid more closely resembles the popular redfish in appearance, but it is deeper-bodied like the black drum. It is mottled black and silver in color, lacks the characteristic black tail spot seen on redfish, and also has lost the black vertical bars of the black drum.
Every once in a while anglers will catch a fish in Gulf or bay waters that looks like a black/red drum hybrid.
Have you caught, killed or photographed a wild hybrid here in Texas?
If so we would love to see the photos and hear your stories. E-mail me at [email protected], and we will run a special Texas Outdoor Nation article on it in a future edition.
Email Chester Moore at
Email Chester Moore at [email protected]