Hey guys! Let’s talk about one of the most divisive and controversial topics in the Blue Tongue Skink Community or at least among the skink breeders in the USA ! Hybrids!
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Soooo, hybrids. What are they? Are they they good? Are they bad? What impact do they have on the community. Why does it matter so much and to whom does it matter?
What are they? In general terms a hybrid is the offspring of two separate species of organisms. The very raw definition of a species is one that can reproduce and by doing so create fertile offspring. However, as science, our understanding of evolutionary development, and our knowledge in taxonomy has grown this simply doesn’t always apply and some hybrid animals are still fertile and able to reproduce, such as some hybridized tiliqua our blue tongue skinks.
Some familiar examples of hybrids would be a mule which is a cross between a male donkey and a female horse...or a Liger (napoleon clip). Actually these creatures do exist. One for a function and the other from humanity’s morbid curiosity. In blue tongue skinks, hybrids would be a cross between maybe an irian jaya and a northern blue tongue or a merauke crossed with a northern. Even an eastern bred to a blotched would be a hybrid. The most commonly seen in the USA is the Indonesian/New Guinea species bred to an Australian species. There is another thing called a subspecies intergrade which is very common these days in the Australian hobby. This is where an Eastern Tiliqua scincoides scinocides and a Northern Tiliqua scinocides intermedia are crossed. Typically this occurs for the purposes of making new visual traits or multigene designer morphs if you will. The first heavy creation of these intergrades in Australia was the Albino Eastern that was having thriving issues. They crossed a Kimberly Northern to them to try to benefit from what is known as hybrid vigor whereby sometimes hybrid species take the best traits of both such as what happens in a mule. This is of course not always the case.
So Are hybrids good? Are hybrids bad? I would say yes some can be good and yes some can be bad. An example of a good hybrid might be the mule which has made an incredible contribution to the early development of the ranching, mining, and farming industries. Still to this day many small farms employ working animals such as mules to help cultivate their crops. An example of a bad hybrid would be the liger. These animals suffer considerably from physiological ailments due to the incompatibility of the genetics from their lion and tiger parents. They often die very young and live a more painful existence. Ligers don’t demonstrate good breeding ethics, they don’t represent either species as an ambassador nor do they contribute to perpetuating either species in captivity.
Now Sadly, as far as true skink hybrids go, that is, for example, a cross between a Tiliqua gigas subspecies and Tiliqua scincoides subspecies their fate is much like that of the poor liger. They don’t have better health, they aren’t prettier (seriously I have seen several and not one of them that made me go WOW so worth it), plus these hybrids don’t contribute to either species in captivity, they don’t even serve as ambassadors to for a real species in the wild (If a child were to ask where does that animal come from or live in the wild??? The answer would be this was a man made animal that doesn’t represent any wild creature.. Hybrid skinks are sadly a man made (opinion alert) disaster.
Again they don’t represent their wild counterparts whatsoever since they don’t hybridize in the wild at all (indos and Aussies that is). No the irian Jaya is not a naturally occurring hybrid as some woefully misinformed individuals have stated. It may be a DESCENDANT of a hybridized population but that is a hypothesis on evolutionary development not a contemporary occurrence. Let me say that again…. An indonesian bred to an Aussie is not an irian jayan. This is NOT occurring naturally at all.
Okay so Since they don’t represent anything in the wild they do absolutely nothing for conservation, nor do they do anything for wildlife education (don’t believe me go do your own research on what makes good wildlife education animals, you’ll see hybrids are clearly listed as a no no more so even than morphs). On top of that they aren’t a positive component to keeper coexistence either.
So What Impact do they have on the community? Well, they cause a whole bunch of problems actually. The animals themselves don’t do much but their keepers and breeders have a whole lot to add to the whirlpool of chaos surrounding them. Basically, in every zoological community be it wildlife conservationists, taxonomists, herpteculturists (thats us reptile and amphibian keepers) you name it there are lumpers and splitters, purists, and collectivists and everything in between. In taxonomy for example there are people who will argue over and over again about if one kind of animals needs to be split into three different kinds of animals. There is one wacko splitter in Australia who thinks if a skink farts in a different direction it’s a new species and he will publish a paper (in his self ran journal) about it and name the new “species” after his first teddy bear or something silly. Then there are folks who choose to not even recognize subspecies as a real thing and say there is only a Northern and Eastern locality of the Common Blue tongue and so on. Those folks would be known as a lumper.
Then there is the purist and the collectivists. Purist would say that one must only breed and keep species, subspecies, and/or locality according to like labled animals. Such as Northern to Northern, Eastern to Eastern, Merauke to Merauke, and so on. I’m personally in that camp. There are also however, collectivists who like the idea of trying to see what will breed with what or want to try and see if a cross will yield some fancy color trait or what have you. They see a blue tongue as a blue tongue, a big cat as a big cat, a a wolf and coyote as a canine all as one. And there are varying degrees to each and some who operate out of both camps. They maintain pure lines and designer/collective lines.
The greatest perceived threat to purity of species or subspecies by purists is the collectivist (aka hybrid breeder) mindset.. This is believed to be the greatest threat because purity can be affected by hybridization whereby hybridization cannot be affected by purity. Thus the more vulnerable position or camp is the purist camp. Simply because its a one way street. One cannot regain purity once lost. Let me say that again. Once cannot regain purity ounces it is lost.
Thus in the US blue tongue skink community the more fragile, the more vulnerable position is the purist position. Hence why many breeders and keepers who value purity are so protective of it. The zeal by which so many in the community protect the idea is simply because new pure Australian species Notherns, Easterns, Westerns, Blotched are not accessible legally due to multiple layers of legislation. There will not be any new pure legal Australian species of blue tongues enter the USA for private purposes in the near future dare i say our life times because of some even deeper legislative and political issues with both Australia and the US wildlife programs.. Thus, what purity (or perceived purity as most don’t have genetic paperwork or true complete and pure lineage back over 40 years to the original imports) thus what purity exists is all that will exist. Hence the defense of it so zealously by some.
Now how does this affect the hobby? Skink population wise if purity is lost it will be lost for good. It’s a one way street. If hybrids were to be actively pursued without strong ethics and business practices to accompany it there is the possibility that the captive population of pure animals would decline. There will always be purists who diligently attempt to maintain pure lineage. That is for certain. But again it's a one way street. Purists fear a world where hybrids have been so widely bred that some pure lines will disappear. Although it’s not likely to happen there is precedence, let me say that again, there is a precedence for this fear. An example of this is the private population of captive tigers. There are thousands of captive tigers in the USA. Sadly very few are pure species or subspecies that actually represent their wild counterparts. In the private circus, roadside zoo, and pet industry people didn’t respect or seem to care about crossing tiger species or subspecies, instead they just wanted more orangey striped big cats. So now many of these awesome creatures can’t contribute to the captive population of any one species.
Professional AZA zoos won’t take any of them because they aren’t pure. They aren’t Javan, Bali, Sumatran, or even Siberian anymore. Many are just tigers. For zoos who value the wild biology of each species this is sad because what could have been a great contribution to the global population of tiger diversity is now just a black eye example of human greed, ignorance, and selfishness. Even if they were never to be returned to the wild they are still useless for true wildlife representation.
Now then How do skink hybrids affect the community of keepers.???? Well some people who are purists, like I am, are quite passionate about it. Like I am. What do i do? I make videos, and don’t buy from or knowingly sell to hybrid breeders. That’s about it.
Unfortunately, some are so passionate they have become dare I say militant. They have taken it upon themselves to play the role of skink police. Taking the initiative to “inform” other breeders and keepers of potential dishonesty. Now on one hand looking out for one another is great. On the other hand, without legitimate evidence such as, genetic analysis, photographs of the two species breeding, or even a confession in “secret” most of the accusations are not indeed factual but speculation at best. And that is dangerous. If evidence is allowed to be speculative at best That means that anyone at anytime could all of a sudden be accused of being dishonest, or breeding hybrids and being dishonest about it. The pack mentality comes into play whereby many don’t want to associate with or stick up for an accused for fear of being labeled a hybrid sympathizer or worse a hybrid breeder themselves all because the finger was pointed by a heavy handed individual or group of individuals..
It is in this sad travesty where many good people with good hearts and good intentions have lost their way. The paranoia and distrust has taken over some people's lives. Affecting their friendships, business practices, and even poisoning their ability to enjoy the hobby they once loved so much.
I know most of my fellow blue tongue skink breeders watching if you’re watching know specific examples that fall into this category. I’m not picking sides between breeders. I have no skin in that particular game. I’m a purist. Period. I make semi educational youtube videos and breed skinks. The end.
The real issue here is a person who is not trustworthy isn’t trustworthy. It actually doesn’t matter if they are a hybrid breeder or a purist. A liar is a liar no matter what they claim to breed.
That being said all we have these days is our word. We only have our word and so and so said this is the parents and maybe a photo of some skinks breeding. It is concrete NOPE. At least with Northerns and some Easterns. There are a few known to come from pure origins. Some not most. Now I’m not saying everything isn’t pure but we don’t have a simple inexpensive way to know for certain yet besides the breeder’s word. So it's not as much about so and so is a hybrid breeder shun them as it is so and so is not trustworthy therefore don’t trust them.
Now, Are there genetic purity tests? Not quite yet but I am in the process of working with a genetics lab on one. Its costing me a pretty penny and I have much more money to send still but I’m hopeful that in the coming years we will be able to have a bona-fide purity test for both eastern and northern blue tongues skinks that will be inexpensive and accurate based on specimens from verifiable Australian origin. The hope is to establish a way for animals to truly be tested using established dna markers from pure Australian skinks. Then we can actually have genetically verified animals. That will help pursuits like myself know what animals I can buy from and will hopefully stop this silly game of he said she said shun, banish blame.
What should we do in the mean time?
What should we do? Well you do whatever brings you contentment in this situation. As for me. I will maintain my collection to the best of my ability. I will do as much due diligence as possible and buy from people I trust, who can give me descent lineage and refrain from selling animals from or buying from hybrid breeders. I will not rally others against someone. I will not stand on a soapbox and condemn someone but I will manage my corner of the world with purity as the core focus and keep funding this genetics test.
To conclude, hybrid skinks don’t positively add value to the fragile purity of the captive population (genuine or perceived), they don’t represent anything in nature, they aren’t helpful for community cohesion and they aren’t more beautiful. Bottom line why bother? When it comes to hybrids just don’t.
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