- Scientists have discovered numerous hybrid species that have been made possible through climate change
- Arctic creatures that were once isolated are now venturing into new territories as sea ice melts
- This includes the ‘brolar bear’ – the offspring of polar bears and brown bears that now hunt in the same areas
- Narwhal-beluga hybrids, and those of different whales, seals and porpoises have also been spotted
- Outside the Arctic, coyotes and wolves are thought to be mating, as well as different flying squirrel species
- MailOnline takes a closer look at the bizarre creatures that could become more common as the planet warms
When you think of a hybrid species, a majestic centaur may spring to mind, or perhaps a terrifying creature with wings, tail and human hands.
While this mental image likely depends on what kind of films you like, the reality of cross-breeds is not quite so fantastical.
Over the last few years, scientists have identified them in the wild through subtle differences in their features, and now believe that some are being born from climate change.
In 2010, a study was published in the journal Nature that listed 34 potential hybrid species that could become prevalent in the Arctic.
This is because sea ice is rapidly melting with global warming, and species that were once isolated are now being forced to move to new areas to hunt.
As a result, they are coming across each other and mating, forming new hybrids that could eventually eject the original species out the gene pool completely.
MailOnline takes a look at the weird and wonderful hybrid species we could see in the near future.
‘Brolar’ bears – Brown bears and polar bears
Evidence of a hybrid species born from brown bears and polar bears has been found in the United States and Canada in the past.
Known as ‘Brolar bears’ or ‘Pizzlies’, they have a mostly white coat, with a brownish hue and a nose that is a cross between a polar bear and a brown or grizzly bear.
They are known to be more suited to warmer temperatures than their Arctic relatives, as they do not rely so heavily on sea-ice for hunting.
Polar bears survive on a specialised diet of blubber, and use sea-ice to hunt for seals that come up from the water for air.
However, many studies have confirmed that Arctic ice cover is depleting, making it more difficult for them to get the nutrition they need.
As a result of the changing terrain, polar bears have been making their way inland in search of more food.
The warming climate has also meant that brown bears have been able to venture further north to hunt, and the two species encounter each other as their habitats overlap.
As a result, the bears have been birthing hybrid cubs, which were first seen in the wild in 2006 when Arctic hunters killed a white bear with brown patches in Canada.
Unlike polar bears, grizzly bears are well adapted to eat hard foods like plant tubers or to scavenge carcasses when resources are limited.
This means that the brolar bears are more able to adapt to a changing diet and climate than polar bears, and could help maintain the polar gene.
‘Narlugas’ – Narwhals and beluga whales
In 1990, a hunter in West Greenland discovered an interesting skull, which appeared to be that of a beluga whale-narwhal hybrid.
It wasn’t until 2019 that DNA analysis confirmed that the creature was indeed 54 per cent beluga from its father, and 46 per cent narwhal from its mother.
Experts believe that the hybrid may have been grey in colour and possessed a tail like a narwhal but forward flippers like those of a beluga whale.
Carbon isotopes inside the bone collagen of the skull also revealed that the ‘narluga’ likely foraged closer to the bottom of the seafloor than is typical for both belugas and narwhals.
Although the specimen represents the only collected evidence of narlugas, the hunter who collected it reported harvesting two other similar creatures at the same time.
Both beluga whales (left) and narwhals (right) inhabit the Arctic Ocean and peripheral sea, and are from a whale family called monodontidae
Both beluga whales and narwhals inhabit the Arctic Ocean and peripheral sea, and are from a whale family called monodontidae.
The Nature study from 2010 lists it as a potential result of climate change, because melting sea ice will mean they are more likely to come into contact.
The scientists wrote: ‘Rapidly melting Arctic sea ice imperils species through interbreeding as well as through habitat loss.
‘As more isolated populations and species come into contact, they will mate, hybrids will form and rare species are likely to go extinct.
‘As the genomes of species become mixed, adaptive gene combinations will be lost.
They added: ‘Cross-breeding might affect social and ecological interactions.
‘The apparent narwhal–beluga hybrid discovered in Greenland had teeth combining qualities of each species, but lacked the narwhal’s tusk — an important determinant of narwhal breeding success.’
‘Coywolves’ – Coyotes and Eastern wolves
A coyote-wolf hybrid known as a ‘coywolf’ has been found in eastern North America for decades.
They are thought to have originated in Canada in the 1920s, when coyotes expanded their territory from the west and into Algonquin Park in Ontario.
At the same time, the area available for eastern wolves was getting smaller as Europeans colonised the country, so they found themselves confined to this same park.
The two species bred to produce coywolves, which have now spread across the East Coast, and were first described formally by scientists in 1969.
They have a larger body, skull and jaw than western coyotes, which allow them to hunt white-tailed deer in Noth America.
Coywolves are not a product of climate change, although they are a more robust species than wolves, having proven to be adaptable to the changing landscape, living in both urban and countryside areas.