Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Bianca. Bianca Wonders, “What are ligers?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Bianca!

Are you a fan of big cats? Maybe you love learning about lions, leopards, and jaguars. You might even know that the cheetah is the world’s fastest animal or that tigers love to swim. If so, you’re sure to enjoy today’s Wonder of the Day. It’s all about ligers!

Have you ever seen the movie “Napoleon Dynamite”? If so, you’ve heard of ligers. According to Napoleon, they’re fascinating creatures bred for their skills in magic. Based on the movie, you might think that ligers are merely a figment of Napoleon’s imagination. After all, they sound sort of far-fetched, don’t they? Believe it or not, though, they’re real!

So what exactly is a liger? They’re the offspring of a male lion and a female tiger. Get it? Li-ger. Li(on) + (ti)ger! Ligers tend to have characteristics more like lions than tigers. If you’re looking for a big cat hybrid that’s more like a tiger, though, find a tigon. That’s the offspring of a male tiger and a female lion.

Ligers look like big lions with tiger-like stripes. Their stripes are usually rather light in color. Larger than either parent, ligers are arguably the biggest known cats in the world. For example, Hercules, a liger at Jungle Island theme park in Miami, weighs over 900 pounds. He is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest living cat!

Like tigers, ligers like to swim. Like lions, they tend to be very sociable. Would you like to run into a liger at your local pool? Probably not!

You also won’t find ligers in the wild. They are hybrids created by human breeders in zoos or animal sanctuaries. There is very little chance that a liger would be born naturally outside of these places. That’s because tigers are found mainly in Asia while lions are found mainly in Africa.

In the distant past, the two species had far greater ranges. At some point, they may have overlapped. Could a liger have occurred naturally in the wild long ago? It’s possible, but not very likely.

According to historical records, ligers can be traced all the way back to the early 1800s. Some artwork from that time period even shows male lions and female tigers and their offspring. Would you like to see a liger in a zoo or animal sanctuary one day? Maybe you’d rather visit a tigon! What other animal hybrids would you like to see?

Standards: NGSS.LS1.B, NGSS.LS3.A, NGSS.LS3.B, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

Wonder What's Next?

Learn about a rare organism tomorrow in Wonderopolis!