7 Impressive Mythical Hybrids and the Animals They’re Made Of
Updated: Mar 2
Whether it’s putting a fish tail on a lion or a pair of wings on a horse, mythology is full of creatures made from the puzzle pieces of other animals. While some such as the jackalope (a jackrabbit with antelope or deer horns) seem like perfectly normal creatures with a few additional parts, others are more impressive, complete with fiery breath, the ability to manipulate water or a poisonous gaze.
The Chimera is possibly the most classic example of a hybrid creature in mythology. It originates from Greece and in original myths it was said to be made up of three animals: lion, goat, and snake. Its head was said to be that of a lion, its body that of a goat (with an extra goat’s head rising from its back) and it had a serpent for a tail. In addition to this, the Chimera had the ability to breath fire. The term ‘chimera’ came to be used to describe any creature made up of composite parts.
The original Chimera haunted the kingdom of Lycia, killing livestock and ravaging the countryside. The king of Lycia eventually pleaded for the hero Bellerophon to kill the Chimera and save them. It is thought that this was a trick – the king had a grievance with Bellerophon and wanted the Chimera to kill him. Unfortunately for the king Bellerophon was accompanied by his loyal companion Pegasus (another hybrid, a horse with wings) and attacked the Chimera from the sky. Bellerophon successfully defeated the creature, using its fire-breath against it and stabbing it through the mouth with a metal-tipped spear. The molten metal killed the unfortunate Chimera.
The Sphynx is a creature described with the head of a human, most commonly a woman, and the body of a lion. It sometimes is also said to have the wings of a hawk. While the Sphynx is most famously associated with Egypt, it also appears in legends from Greece.
Here, the sphynx was said to have been sent by the gods to punish the people of Thebes. She lurked outside the city, challenging any who wished to enter, or leave, to answer her riddle. Each was unsuccessful and devoured. Eventually the sphynx was defeated by the hero Oedipus, who was able to answer correctly (the answer being ‘man’). In her despair over being outsmarted, the sphynx is said to have thrown herself off a cliff.
In return for his heroics, Oedipus was granted kingship of Thebes, and a marriage to its widowed queen, Jocasta (with famously tragic results).
Unlike their Western cousins, the Chinese dragon is not a fire-breathing reptile, but instead made up of composite parts taken from different animals. They are said to have the body of a snake, that antlers of a deer, the head of a camel, the belly of a clam, the scales of a carp, the claws of an eagle, the paws of a tiger and the ears of an ox.
Rather than being able to breath fire, the Chinese dragon is usually associated with water, being able to summon rain and storms. There are also legends of dragons living in streams and lakes across China. For a more in depth look at Chinese dragons, check out our other article; A Brief Account of Life with Dragons (Dragons in the Eastern World).
The Nue is a mythological yokai from Japan that has the head of a monkey, the body of a tanuki (raccoon dog), the tail of a snake (much like the chimera) and the feet of a tiger. It is said to be a vengeful spirit, bringing misfortune and illness with it wherever it goes. In addition to its strange appearance, the creature was capable of transforming into a cloud of black smoke.
Popular in medieval England, though possibly originating in Ancient Rome, the Cockatrice is a dragon-like creature with a serpentine body and the head and feet of a rooster. Myths of the Cockatrice are often conflated with myths of the Basilisk, as the two are very similar. A Cockatrice is born when an egg, impossibly laid by a rooster, is hatched beneath a toad (though some legends replace the toad with a serpent).
The Cockatrice was capable of bringing about instantaneous death – destroying its surroundings either through its gaze, or through poisonous breath. The only creature immune to the Cockatrice was the weasel, a creature supposedly capable of producing its own poison which was deadly to the Cockatrice.
Unlike many of the hybrids on this list, the Alkonost is described as a benevolent and kind creature. She appears in Slavic myths as a guardian spirit, though she is sometimes also described as a wind spirit. She is always female, appearing with the face of a beautiful woman and the body of a bird. The most unforgettable thing about the Alkonost is her voice – those who hear it say that it is the most beautiful sound they have ever heard and are thought to never truly be content until they hear it again.
The Alkonost resides on the mythical island of Buyan, a hidden island filled with many precious things. The Alkonost lays her eggs on the sand, and then moves them to incubate in the ocean, where, seven days later, they hatch.
Like the Alkonost, the Harpy is said to have the body of a bird, and the face of a human, and like the Alkonost they were also sometimes thought of as wind spirits. Unlike the Alkonost however, the Harpy is far from a benevolent creature, and are usually described as hideous or filthy. They often feature in Greek mythology where they appear as a form of divine retribution, punishing people for their misconduct, or stealing them away.
One of the people that they were sent to punish was King Phineus, a king of Thrace. Phineus’ exact crime varies depending on the myth. One claims that Phineus blinded his sons, while another says that he shared knowledge meant only for the gods. The Harpies punished Phineus by stealing his food, and destroying any scraps left behind. Phineus was eventually saved by the crew of the Argonaut, who chased the Harpies away.
Overall history is full of mythical creatures made up of the composite parts of other animals. There is seemingly nothing humans have liked better than taking the horns, or wings, off one animal and attaching them onto another to create a mysterious and sometimes dangerous folkloric figure. Karina Longworth has capitalised on this in her beautiful book, Myth Match which allows you to flip through, combining different mythological creatures together to create new and even more bizarre monsters!