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August 16, 2003

New Mystery "Chimps" Largest Primates on Earth

Or maybe not so new. This has been floating around for a while, but I just caught wind of it with this recent article in USA Today. Scientists at the Omaha Zoo are testing the DNA and fingerprints of a little studied ape that's found in a jungle area around the Northern Congo, trying to figure out if it's a new species of chimp, just a sub-species, or even a hybrid of a chimp and a gorilla. Whatever it is, it's now a seemingly viable contender, along with the mountain gorilla, for the title of the largest known living primate.

In an area where the nearest gorillas are thousands of miles away, the animal displays a mix of chimp and gorilla-like qualities. Its diet, like a chimp's, consists mostly of fruits. Its face is like a chimp's though flatter. Its body is a whole lot larger than a chimp's, and, with a 14 inch footprint, even bigger than a gorilla's (who average about 12 in). Because they are too intimidating to have to worry about predators (including poachers) locals call them "lion-killers". Unlike other chimps who must sleep up in the trees to avoid common predators such as lions, leopards, and hyenas, these ones sleep freely on the ground like gorillas. Some of their behaviors, such as hooting at the rising and setting moon, aren't characteristic of either species.


The picture on the left is an example of a pretty big chimp. Chimps in the wild average about 100-125 lbs. The picture on the right is one of the mystery Bondo chimps. (the guy to his left weighs 175 lbs). The average gorilla is 300-400 lbs.

Tests so far show its mtDNA looks like a chimp's, but since that's only passed down from the mother's side, further tests could still reveal it as a hybrid.

Gigantism in hybrid species is not unknown. The liger is a cross between a male lion and a female tiger, and it is the largest cat on earth. For a comparison, the Amur tiger is the largest natural cat and weighs 400-600 lbs.(with a record weight of 900 lbs.), while the average male lion weighs 400-500 lbs. Now the average male liger weighs over 900 lbs. and as much as 1400 lbs. (or just shy of half a ton).

Posted by Jason Malloy at 10:13 PM

This is an interesting page on hybrid mixes- some of them like the dolphin/ whale combos seem so wrooong!:

BTW, the same site also alludes to hybrid theory failing sometimes:
"(Tigons are sometimes referred to as Tiglons or Tions.) Tigons are very rare; only a few exist in the world, and even those are only held by private owners. This is because it is much more difficult to get the male tiger to mate with the female lion. Tigons look similar to ligers. They have varying stripes and spots. Tigons are also orangish in color. Male offspring may have a mane, but will be very modest. They are able to produce both lion and tiger sounds when they roar. One difference between tigons and ligers is their size. Tigons are not nearly as large as ligers. In fact, tigons are often times smaller than both of their parents. The lifespan of tigons, as well as other hybrid animals, is shorter than a normal species. The animals seem prone to cancers and other illnesses."

For anyone who thinks Hybrids are always going to romp on the purebloods, think about the Tigon.

Posted by: R at August 17, 2003 02:34 AM

GC, my bad.

Posted by: R at August 17, 2003 10:16 AM

Well, the big question is whether we actually know what our species and what are just subspecies. For example, wolves and dogs were considered separate species by taxonomists, but they interbreeed freely, so in 1994 wolves, dogs, and coyotes where changed from three species to one species. There's a lot of gray area in the technical definition of a species -- there are a lot of populations of animals that don't normally mate with other populations of fairly similar animals, but they might under particular conditions.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at August 17, 2003 12:03 PM

There's a lot of gray area in the technical definition of a species

don't tell that to the creationists ;)

Posted by: razib at August 17, 2003 12:43 PM

I think ligers and Tigons are interfertile and back fertile both ways.

Posted by: rob at August 17, 2003 01:46 PM

I saw something on telly, years ago, that put forth the hypothesis that Fluffie is descended from a cross of Desert cats and Jungle cats kept in temples in Egypt. (I don't recall what support was given for this idea, if any.)

Posted by: Anton Sherwood at August 20, 2003 02:29 PM