What do you get when you cross a Dodge Ram and a Pontiac GTO? Either a Cheviot Caprice or a Jeep, apparently.
On a farm in County Kildare Ireland, a Cheviot sheep ewe has just given birth to a Goat x Sheep hybrid. These rarities of nature are lovingly referred to as “Geeps” which, much like the “General Purpose” G.P. eventually became the Jeep, geep should be pronounced jeep, because Jeep sounds better than Geep, so sayeth the Border-Wars.
This little hybrid doesn’t yet have a name, as the part-time farmer part-time bar owner Paddy Murphy (seriously, can you get any more Irish than that? I bet his middle name is Michael or Joseph), is holding an auction to name the marvel to support a sick kid from the local village. Paddy and his farm hands witnessed the ram goat “tipping” the ewe sheep earlier this season but didn’t think much of it as randy goats might try their best but it usually fails to produce much more than a laugh from onlookers. But after he birthed the black Geep from his all-white flock of sheep he figured something was suspicious and the little fella’s budding horns and long legs suggest that he might be a genuine hybrid.
Sheep-Goat hybrids are rare because Sheep have 54 chromosomes and Goats have 60, although documented Geep have been found in Botswana, New Zealand, France, and now Ireland. These hybrids of sheep and goat have been attested from both Goat rams mating with sheep ewes and Sheep rams mating with goat does. All tested Geep have had 57 chromosomes. Two of these Geep have been found to be fertile when back-crossed as well, one producing an offspring with 54 chromosomes which raises interesting options for cross-over genetics from the goat which could be incorporated back into sheep.
Note that this Geep hybrid is not an example of “hybrid vigor,” a colloquial term for heterosis, or the observation of increased health and vitality when breeding two distinct strains within a species. This is an inter-species hybrid and the different chromosome number makes “vigor,” especially when measured by fertility an unlikely event. Different chromosome numbers is one path toward speciation and hybrids between parent stock are very often non-viable or sterile. This is rather the opposite of vigor. But it’s not really the opposite of heterosis, because the lack of vitality does not come in the form of heterozygosity or homozygosity, it comes from the inability of alleles to meet up with any matching allele entirely. So when you see people claiming “hybrid vigor only happens between species,” they’re stupid and ignorant. It simply does not apply between species given all the other extant issues with producing viable offspring.
The fertility and other issues often found in inter-species hybrids can actually be considered a form of out-breeding depression, but of course since the mechanism is so distinct from hetero/homozygosity (which is what we’re really looking at when we’re breeding dogs to dogs), it’s not particularly informative on the issues dog breeders should be concerned with.
For etymology buffs, the Chevrolet car is named after the surname of one of the founders of the brand, Louis Chevrolet. Chevrolet was Swiss and the surname is French/Swiss-German for goat milker from the French chèvre meaning “goat” and lait meaning “milk.”
The word “caprice” is also goat-related, coming from the French for “whim” from the Italian cappriccio which is derived from capo “head” and riccio “hedgehog” to mean head with the hair standing on end” or “a shivering” later influenced by capra “goat” to mean lively, free form, or a sudden change of mind.
The word “Cheviot” is actually where we get the term “Chevy” as in Chevy-Chase, a redundant term as chevy means “to chase” or “a running pursuit.” The origin of this is the “Ballad of Chevy Chase” a popular song from the 15th century which tells of a hunting party on the Cheviot hills of the borders which turned into a battle between the English and Scots in the late 14th century.
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