Thursday, January 01, 2009

White Tigers, Ligers, and White Lions? Oh, My!

Whenever I teach about genetics, my students routinely inquire about animal rarities. I'll speak about hybrids, like donkey + horse = mule. And they'll ask about ligers. I'll lecture about homozygous recessive traits. And they want to know about white tigers.

Today, I had the opportunity to see both "species" and finally have some fodder, and pictures, for next year's lesson. These two types of animals are uniquely beautiful, but do spark debate amongst the scientific community. Since ligers are formed by the mating of two different species of animals who do not normally breed together in nature, and since white tigers often have many health woes due to their genetic frailty (the National Zoo in Washington, DC has decided that their current white tiger will be their last), it is unlikely that they will ever amount to numbers more than a handful.

Perhaps the unexpected treat of this trip, though, was the pair of white lions that the Siberian tiger park had on exhibit. I had never even heard of white lions before! While they are not pure white like the tigers, their coat definitely has a different look to it. The sheen and highlights have a strange hue. They are truly a sight. And maybe worth a class trip next year...No, I don't think MCPS will go for it either, unfortunately!



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