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Species, race, hybrid, mutant parrot

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African Grey Mutation .Species, race, hybrid, mutant, quezaco? Some popularized notions of biology …

Very often, these terms crop up inappropriately on the Internet when talking about our birds. I will try here to popularize for you, explain biologically the differences that apply, and these are valid for the entire living world (parrots and all animals, but also plants, bacteria, fungi, …).


First of all, you have to understand how species are classified today (I’ll spare you the history of species classification! 😀). Here is a general diagram:

(living) → kingdom → branching → class → order → family → genus → species

Take the example of the blue and gold macaw (= vernacular name: term specific to each language, used in everyday life) or Ara ararauna (= scientific name: Latin name used universally, it is always written in italics and with a capital letter for the name of the genus and a small letter for the name of the species):

(living) → animal kingdom → phylum of chordates → class of birds → order of Psittaciformes → family of Psittacidae → genus Ara → species Ara ararauna

I spare you the sub-categories (sub-kingdom, subspecies, etc.).

A species is defined by a set of genetically close individuals, capable of reproducing among themselves and of having fertile descendants!


When it comes to races, these are species that have been domesticated and modified by human selection over generations to favor certain characteristics. Let us take the very telling example of the wolf and the dog. These two animals both belong to the Canis lupus species: they can both reproduce with each other and give fertile offspring. During the domestication of the wolf, individuals were selected to give breeds: Labrador, wolfdog, Bouvier, mastiff, shepherd, … The domestic dog is the subspecies of the wolf, Canis lupus familiaris , but I had promised not to talk about subcategories! 😀

You now know the difference between a species and a race!


Let’s move on. As I told you above, individuals belonging to the same species can reproduce and give fertile offspring. But if two individuals belonging to two different species reproduce, their descendants will be hybrids. These are (most of the time) sterile and can go so far as to present physical or even mental defects, due to the genetic difference between their two parents. Thus, if an Ara ararauna and an Ara chloropterus (which belong to the same genus ( Ara) but two different species) reproduce, their descendants will be hybrids: the harlequin macaws. These do not belong to any species, cannot (in theory) reproduce with other individuals, and therefore do not appear in any classification of living things. Unfortunately, the macaws ararauna and phoropters are so closely related genetically, that some of their hybrids succeed in reproducing, resulting in 2nd generation hybrids, and even they sometimes succeed in reproducing, resulting in 3rd generation hybrids. To stay in the parrot world, today we also see hybrids from parents of different genera, like this hybrid of a blue and gold macaw (genus Ara) and hyacinth macaw (genus Anodorhynchus ).  These two macaws are of different genera, but both belong to the Psittacidae family. To make a comparison more meaningful, it is as if a human ( Homo sapiens ) and a chimpanzee ( Pan paniscus ), both belonging to the hominid family, but from two different genera, were reproducing.



Finally, a mutant is an individual who spontaneously presents a difference (most often physical) compared to the norm of his species. These are reproduced with each other in order to maintain character over the generations, creating breeds over time. To fix the selected traits, parent individuals are often reproduced, creating inbreeding problems. This is why today, most “mongrel” dogs are more resistant than purebred dogs, resulting from a long selection of inbred crosses. Coming back to our parrots, take the example of the budgie, Melopsittacus undulatus. The wild type of Budgerigar is predominantly green and yellow. This species reproduces quickly and being present in captivity for a long time, spontaneous mutations appeared: here a blue and yellow parakeet, here a green and blue parakeet, here an all-white, etc.

There you go, you know the difference between a hybrid and a mutant!

I hope that these little explanations will be clear to you, otherwise do not hesitate to ask me questions and I will try to answer them if I can! 😊

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