yeah but…

I recently discovered the existence of the zorse: the offspring of a horse and a zebra. Yes, I know. Who’s idea was that, right? Presumably a particularly randy equine of more than usually cosmopolitan outlook…

Anyway, whatever, I want one.

And it made me think of this:

Elephants are intelligent, social animals with long memories – indeed, they have the largest brain size to body weight ratio of any creature other than us. So, if one were to introduce an African elephant to an Indian elephant, would they recognise each other as ‘cousins’? Would they be able to communicate? Breed, even?

There are even apparently two separate species of African elephant – but hybrids between the two commonly occur. Now, I thought the whole point of the difference between a species and a breed or race was that species cannot interbreed. Which is why, with all the seeming surface variation among human beings, we are still just different races, not different species. We can all interbreed quite happily. Indeed, with the exercise of a little common sense we can even communicate with one another.

However, witness the many ridiculous races or breeds of dog – a Chihuahua looks like a completely different animal species from an English Sheep Dog, for example, but mongrels between many breeds of dog occur (though god only knows how – they must be ingenious little fuckers, in more ways than one). Yet, surely we have already reached the point at which it is no longer physically possible. I give you the pictures below:

I’m also fascinated by a statistic frequently bandied about at the moment, viz. that we share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees and bonobos. I mean, think about that. Only 2% of all the information our cells use to make us – the ape who has visited the Moon – is different from that used to make apes whose most sophisticated tool technology is currently the carefully selected and slightly modified twig.

We think there are such differences between all the races of humans on the planet, when really – apart from skin colour and hair types which are cosmetic adaptations to varying climates, and some slight variations in build – the supposed differences we see must be pretty much entirely cultural and environmental.

Anyway, right now I’m just glad I’m not a chihuahua, you know?

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25 Responses to yeah but…

  1. sledpress says:

    We are all glad that you are not a chihuahua. And that we are not chihuahuas either.

    When I was four the adults left me absent mindedly in the kitchen of someone’s house and their Doberman body-slammed me to the floor while the chihuahua of the same household ran up overcome with excitement and bit hell out of my pinky finger. I have hated dogs of all sizes ever since with a bitter annihilating hatred. And I don’t want to know what those two got up to together.

    I will note that domestic cats, no matter how overbred, are all genteelly matched in size, indicating that the universe has invested more of its wisdom and grace in that species.

    I have seen photos of some lady bonobos in the San Diego Zoo whose “tool technology” was beyond twig level, in one sense, though strictly speaking it amounted to a re-purposing of human artifacts meriting the NSFW tag. Still, there was some creativity involved.

    • azahar says:

      “I will note that domestic cats, no matter how overbred, are all genteelly matched in size”

      I’ve always wondered about this. Even those gross hairless cats still end up the same size.

      What exactly is the point of a chihuahua?

    • Norwichrocks says:

      These people had a Doberman and a Chihuahua? And they left you alone with them? Good grief. Its a miracle you lived through childhood with care like that!

      Yes, I have often looked at domestic cats and thought how very similar in size they are, even if there is a great deal of cosmetic difference (huge balls of fluffy fur and flat dish faces vs hairless and pointy-faced etc). But then, their ‘cousins’ the wild cats can be enormous… which makes me wonder again, you know, about how Azar might feel about a cute lady lioness?? 😉

      • sledpress says:

        Best of all, I remember a person of parental status who browbeat me over and over to assent that I was frightened in that house because “[their teenage daughter] told me there was a bear in the closet.”

        I have absolutely no fucking idea where anyone came up with the notion of a bear in the closet, especially when there was a great big live fucking Doberman in the kitchen.

        I did not, in fact, live through childhood. A walk-in spirit arrived in the nick of time and has been me ever since. 🙂

  2. socksinmypocket says:

    Argh – banish the last apostrophe and add an s to make beats beasts!

    Like everything in the real world there is little that is simple and defining a species is no exception – it is an artificial concept humans use to try to make sense of the world and not a natural phenomenon. Perhaps the Asian and African elephants can interbreed (or just males from one with females from the other?) but it is very unlikely as they are usually geographically isolated from each other. So if they are morphologically very different as your pictures show, presumably genetically distinct populations, unlikely into interbreed because of geographic isolation they sound like they function as different species to me.

    The 98% similarity between humans and bonobo genomes is difficult to interpret without a better understanding of that 2% difference. For example, you may have two base-pair difference in a genetic sequence of a 100 base pair gene (98% similarity), but if it the differences occur in the start codon of one species then the DNA sequence can never be transcribed, so that gene is expressed in one species but not in the other. They are have 98% genetic similarity but there is 100% difference in gene function – a much bigger deal. So all we can say is that the genomes are 98% the same, but functioning of those genomes, well, nothing is simple in biology. That said, bonobo bones and muscles and eyes, and skin and internal organs look pretty much the same as ours to me.

    I think chihuahuas go in the artificial human concept box along with the idea of species and not the real world box along with animals, so I too am glad we are not these beastly beasts.

    • Norwichrocks says:

      Ah yes, I know that African and Indian elephants would not meet under normal circumstances, in the wild, since their populations are so geographically separate, but I’m sure I’ve seen them in zoos mixed together… Or maybe in an old circus…? 😉

      And yes, absolutely, the 98% figure is misleading since it does not tell the whole story about the functioning of the genes in question, you’re quite right.

  3. And to confuse the avid student of pre-history even more, I awoke today to find a report on the discovery of a new sub-species of humans in Siberia from some 50,000 years ago. A time when there should have been only homo sap and homo neanderthal wandering around. I wonder if those older varieties of homo killed each other off or if they interbred. I think they interbred and we are the resultant stronger “mongrel” strain. Not a weakened purebred strain, like the chihuahua.

  4. robodad says:

    > ingenious little fuckers

    You are so adorable.

  5. David says:

    What bothers me most about cross-breeding is the ludicrous names they give the resulting hybrid … peekapoo, labradoodle, cockerhuahua, doberdaniel … where will it end?

    I mean, imagine if we named children like that. I’d have been named Wiki or something similar.

  6. Norwichrocks says:

    Quite. One of my colleagues has an adorable little dog who visits the office every once in a while. She’s apparently a Cavoodle. I thought she was a mongrel, but apparently that’s not PC anymore. Though why anyone thinks that one could offend a dog by impugning its ancestry is a mystery to me…

  7. healingmagichands says:

    Puggles. The most disgusting combination I have run across yet (pug and beagle if you care). The Precious Moments artifact of dogdumb.

    I have no idea what the point of the chihuahua is, I only know that when I was a young thing I was hired by some neighbors to babysit their overexc ited and paranoid pair when they wanted to go out. Honest. I was paid more by them to babysit their disgusting little dogs than I was by another couple who used me to babysit their brood of four boys. Go figure.

    • Norwichrocks says:

      Puggle? Good god. *shudder*

      And I can well believe you were paid more to look after a couple’s dogs than someone else’s children. I was a nanny off and on for 10 years and it used to really hack me off that the cook, gardener, driver, you name it, were all always paid more than me, who had sole charge of their offspring.

  8. modestypress says:

    Which is worse?
    A horse or a zorse?
    Of course, it is definitely an animal that succumbed to the dark side of the force
    Or as Spencer Tracy said when told that Katherine Hepburn didn’t seem to have that much meat on her bones,
    “Yes, but what there is, is cherce.”
    Probably what the horse said about the zebra, though I’ve never had a chance to aska horse whether it preferred “dark” meat or “white” meat.

    • Norwichrocks says:

      hhhmmm, I have been merrily pronouncing ‘zorse’ to rhyme with ‘horse’ but maybe it should rhyme with ‘worse’? Oh, the deep questions of life…

      And I’ve always loved the Hepburn/Tracy story.

  9. modestypress says:

    In regard to chihuahuas, my wife and I once lived next door to a lovely English nurse (who had, I suspect a few “issues” with men, though she was always pleasant with me) who owned a chihuahua who hated men.

    The doggie, named “Maxie,” got along fine with my wife and daughter, but feared and despised me. The nurse asked me to take Maxie out for his bathroom break each day (I was in graduate school and home part of each day) because he had a weak bladder. When the man [me] came to the door, Maxie screamed and yelled, “Help! Murder! Rape!” and the like in chihuahua language and tried to bite me to death. No matter how many times I explained to Maxie that I had no interest in his body, and in fact found it quite repulsive, he never ceased. Fortunately, the occasionally passing bobbie did not understand chihuahua, so I am not spending my days in prison accused of chihuahua molestation.

    • Norwichrocks says:

      I kind of imagine chihuahua spoken with a lisping mexican accent, in a high falsetto, filled with impotent rage.

  10. sledpress says:

    Sam Rosenberg, the trivialist, once described a Chihuahua in a “yapping, pissing paroxysm of ridiculous miniaturized rage.” He must have been watching a scene like that.

    • Norwichrocks says:

      That’s brilliant.

      And now I know what I want to be when I grow up: a trivialist. I have a natural aptitude.

  11. OmbudsBen says:

    Re the zorse, there is something a bit Seussesque about such animals. Like the Liger (or Tion), if you’ve seen the offspring of lions and tigers. They just look odd. Maybe not as bad as something out of a horrible Hollywood movie where a fly gets caught in a sci-fi transporter machine, but headed that way.

    My understanding is that these animals are sterile, similar to the mules born of horse and donkey whoopie-making. But I don’t know–perhaps ligers and tions can have little ones. (And if they do, would they sniff to sense who takes after mom or dad’s side?)

    Re great danes & chihauhaus, I once read that the species with greatest genetic diversity is the dog. Curiously, it’s a member of the cat family that has the least genetic diversity: the cheetah. Apparently, more than any other species, a cheetah is a cheetah is a cheetah.

    I kind of pity chihuahuas, for what human breeders have done with wolf genes.

  12. What a difference 2% makes. When I think about how different we are from human to human, in what makes us unique individuals, and how many animals there are in the world and how different the DNA must be from species to species to species, (worm to raptor for instance) just so many piles of molecules all arranged in the right order, it really starts to boggle my mind. I think I may need to lie down . . .

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