Pumapard, leopard-puma hybrids?

By Razib Khan | May 30, 2013 2:11 am

Pumapard, 1904

You are probably aware of Panthera hybrids from Napoleon Dynamite. Specifically, Ligers, the largest of all the big cats. But the hybridization of the Panthera species shouldn’t be so shocking. They have diversified only within the last 2 to 4 million years. The lone New World variant (or at least surviving New World variant, recall the extinct American lion), the jaguar, arrived a few million years ago across Beringia. This is not too surprising, as many iconic “American” animals, such as the American bison, made the same journey (Camels went the other direction). But there were already “big cats” in the New World. The puma or cougar. These are not Panthera, and I only recently realized that jaguars were not closely related to this species. Rather, the puma is the ironically largest of the “small cats”.


Which brings me to the subject of this post, the enigmatic pumapard. This is purported hybrid between leopards and pumas. The citations from the Wikipedia entry are old, and I have a hard time confirming them (also checked via Google Books). So I’m not quite sure if this is a legitimate hybrid, or some rumor like the humanzee. Since there are museum specimens I’d be curious if someone is interested in doing a genetic test in the near future to confirm their hybrid nature.

Citation: Johnson, Warren E., et al. “The late Miocene radiation of modern Felidae: a genetic assessment.” Science 311.5757 (2006): 73-77.

As you can see from the phylogenetic tree to the left the puma lineage diverged from the Panthera ~10 million years ago. Though hybridization is not impossible for mammals at this distance, it makes more plausible the reports that pumapards exhibit much lower fitness as conventionally understood, being subject to dwarfism and reduced life expectancy. One genuine confirmed hybrid that might surprise many, the camel-llama cama, probably had parents whose last common ancestors diverged on the order of ~5 million BP (assuming that the ancestors of the llamas and camels were already diverging in North America before the migration of the llama lineage to South America ~3 million years ago).

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution
  • lyllyth

    I thought cheetahs were an archaic clade unto themselves? When did they become part of Felis!!?

    • razibkhan

      yeah. there is actually some lack of clarity on specific details here, and i know some people don’t believe the placing of the cheetah….

  • Andrew Lancaster

    Maybe more like a jaguar? But I agree there is nothing striking about the appearance (not that there needs to be if the story be true)

  • Robert Sykes

    Is there a single professional biologist who takes seriously or believes or uses the Dobzhansky/Mayer definition of biological species. It’s in every biology book and taught in every course. But take a look at the chart. Every twig is a recognized species. But if biologists believed the biological species definition, none or very few of them would be.

    Biologists, despite 150+ years of Darwinism and 50+ years of DNA are still Linneans.

  • stargene

    Your pumapard blog piece sent me to various possible
    sources, including wikipedia. For what it’s worth, both
    species having 38 chromosomes lends some plausibility, though following your great radiation
    flow-chart above, a leap between two such separate
    groups seems to rival Spiderman biology. What really
    got my attention were some suggestions that very
    early species-splits off of the last common ancestor
    of both chimps and modern H. sapiens, may have
    occasionally ‘hybridized’, with the usual infertility
    results between hybrids, but every now and then, a hybrid could successfully cross back with one or other of the original species lineages, increasing the genetic palette. An interesting mechanism, if so. Couldn’t

    similar hybrid-original back-crossings have occurred
    in our own lineages?

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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