If you’ve ever seen the movie Napoleon Dynamite, you’re probably familiar with ligers. According to Napoleon, they’re fascinating creatures bred for their skills in magic. Based upon 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! Ligers exist — and not just in the movies!

So what exactly is a liger? Ligers are big cats that are 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. A creature can be created that’s more like a tiger, though. This offspring of a male tiger and a female lion is called a tigon.

Ligers get characteristics from both parents. They look like a big lion with tiger-like stripes that are usually rather light. Larger than either parent, ligers are arguably the largest known cats in the world. For example, Hercules, a liger at Jungle Island theme park in Miami, weighs over 900 pounds and 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!

Ligers are hybrids that are created by human breeders in zoos or nature preserves. There is very little chance that a liger would be produced naturally in the wild, since tigers are found mainly in Asia while lions are found mainly in Africa.

In the distant past, the two species had far greater ranges that may have overlapped. While it’s possible that a liger may have occurred naturally in the wild many, many years ago, it’s not very likely. Ligers have almost always been the result of purposeful breeding in captivity by human caretakers.

Ligers can be traced all the way back to the early 1800s. Historical records, including artworks from that time period, show male lions and female tigers and their offspring.

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    • Hi Jasmine! Yep, they are real animals! It’s hard for many people to know that they’re real since many zoos do not have them! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  1. We are still WONDERing:

    – How many ligers have been created?
    – How are ligers bred in captivity?
    – How big does a liger have to be to hunt?
    – Why does it have to be a male lion and a female tiger to create a liger?

    • Hi Ms. Tesa’s Class! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! Ligers are in zoos around the world! What WONDERful WONDERS you’ve shared! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • Hi Eddie! That would be an interesting animal! There’s a book called The Island of Dr. Moreau where he tries to make all types of new species and combinations! Some of them can turn out quite scary! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • Hi Domonic! Ligers primarily live at zoos where they are bred. Tigers and Lions do not commonly mate in the wild. Thanks for WONDERing with us!

    • Hi Taniyah! We WONDER if baby ligers are called cubs just as baby lions and tigers are! Ligers can have babies however it is unlikely that it will be a similar looking liger as the genes decrease through the generations! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  2. hello WONDEROPOLIS. Today’s WONDER of the day was very interesting. I thought ligers is not really even a word. You probably remember me from the other WONDER of the day.Can you post this or ask this WONDER how are toys made? I predict tomorrow’s WONDER of the is about something very sad like a memorial. Thanks WONDEROPOLIS!

    • Hi Morgan! Thanks for WONDERing with us! That’s a WONDERful suggestion about how toys are made and an even more WONDERful prediction! We can’t wait to WONDER with you more! :)

  3. I’ve heard of ligers and I think they’re really cool. I’ve also heard ligers are the largest cats with tigers second while lions are third. I’ve also heard that ligers can only be bred with an asian tiger and an asian lion.

    • Hi Team Clark #25! Thanks for WONDERing with us! Wow, what WONDERful thoughts and wonders! Have you ever seen a liger before? They’re pretty awesome! :)

  4. I never knew about Ligers and Tigons. What would a Panther and Lion be called? a Lanther? What is the phobia of Ligers? I learned alot about ligers. I thought they came in the wild but they only came a long time ago.

    • Hi Team Clark! Thanks for WONDERing with us more! Maybe they’d be called a Pion or Lanther? That’d be an interesting look with a black lion! Keep WONDERing! :)

    • Hi Team Clark #25! They certainly can, but there could be harmful genetic repercussions with their offspring! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us Mandi! The first historical records we have of ligers are from the early 1800s. Cool, huh? :-)

    • WONDERful question, Hannah! According to the Wonder, “Ligers are hybrids that are created by human breeders in zoos or nature preserves.” Thanks for WONDERing with us! :-)

  5. I really liked this video. It’s really helpful.
    Are there any ligers in the wild?
    And, are there such thing as different types of ligers?

    • Great questions, Cassidy! Ligers are bred in captivity. Since lions and tigers in the wild live in different areas, there are no ligers in the wild. You could get a tigon by breeding a male tiger with a female lion. Thanks for WONDERing with us Wonder Friend! :-)

  6. The ligers are very cool and cute. Do some ligers have the same designs on them, and do Ligers grow manes like lions? Can ligers or tigons be created in the wild?

    • Great questions, Alea! What we do know is that ligers are only breed in captivity. This means that they do not naturally occur in the wild. Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

  7. Hi Wonderopolis! I never knew ligers were real! How many ligers are there in the world? Are they dangerous? Are there any in the wild? How many were bred in outside of zoo’s?

    • Wow, Team Tiger! We love all the extra WONDERing you’re doing! We hope you’ll embark on a Wonder Journey of your own to discover more about ligers! We can’t wait to hear what you find out! :) :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Are ligers real?
  • What’s the difference between a liger and a tigon?
  • Do ligers occur naturally in the wild?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Ready to wrestle and wrangle with some ligers? No need to put your life in danger. Just grab a few curious friends and family members and explore one or more of the following fun activities:

  • Want to see some ligers up close? Without worrying about becoming lunch? Just jump online and check out the following video slide show of Liger Pictures! What do you think? Do they look like you thought they would? Would you want a liger as a pet? Why or why not? What’s your favorite thing about ligers?
  • If you’d rather see ligers, tigons and other big cats in action, surf on over to the Big Cat Rescue site to see all sorts of interesting big cat videos. Would you ever want to work with big cats in a zoo or at a rescue facility? Why or why not? What kinds of dangers do you think working with big cats would present? What would be rewarding about the work?
  • How creative can you be? Pretend that you’ve just inherited a tropical island and approximately $1 billion dollars. You realize that you can finally make your dream come true. You’re going to build an exotic animal rescue vacation resort where people can come to stay and enjoy spending time with the most exotic animals in the world. In addition to ligers and tigons, you’re going to hire genetic scientists to develop other interesting hybrids of animals. Make a list of animals you want them to develop. What hybrids would you order? What would you call them? Write a brief story or produce a video or multimedia presentation explaining your dream and the animals you’re going to create. Be as wildly creative as you want to be!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Education’s DNA and Endangered Species lesson, children learn some basics about DNA and genetics and then learn how DNA can be used to study and help endangered animals. They visit a website with information about specific research projects and write paragraphs explaining how DNA and genetics research might be used to help an endangered or threatened species.

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