Species, race, hybrid and mutant: what’s the difference?


Very often, these terms come up inappropriately on the internet to talk about our birds. Here is an article by Fanny Detroyat, holder of a master’s degree in ethology and passionate;

I will try to popularize here to explain biologically the differences that apply, and these are valid for the entire living world (parrots and all animals, but also plants, bacteria, fungi, etc.)

First of all, one must understand how species are classified today (ie spares you the history of species classification! )

Here is a general diagram:

(living) → kingdom → branch → 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 Macaw ararauna (= scientific name: Latin name universally used, it is always written in italics and with a capital letter for the name of the genus and a lower case for the name of the species):

(living) → animal kingdom → branch of chordates → class of birdsorder psittaciformes → family of psittacidae → kind Macaw→ species Macaw 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!

Regarding the 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!

Regarding hybrids …

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 to two different species) reproduce, their descendants will be hybrids: 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 chloropterus are so closely related genetically, that some of their hybrids are successful in reproducing, resulting in 2nd generation hybrids, and even they sometimes manage to reproduce, 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 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 more meaningful comparison, it is as if a human (Homo sapiens) and a chimpanzee (Pan paniscus), both belonging to the hominid family but two different genera, were reproducing.

Regarding mutants …

Finally, a mutant is an individual who spontaneously presents a difference (most often physical) from 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, let’s take the example of the budgie, Melopsittacus undulatus. The wild type of Budgerigar is predominantly green and yellow. As this species reproduces quickly and has been present in captivity for a long time, spontaneous mutations have appeared: here a blue and yellow parakeet, here a green and blue parakeet, here an all white parakeet, etc.

There you are, 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!

Fanny Detroyat

Holder of a biodiversity license

organisms and ecosystems and

a master’s degree in ethology


Fanny Detroyat, number 2020, Species, race, hybrid and mutant: what’s the difference ?, https://perroquetdenature.blogspot.com/2020/11/tres-souvent-ces-termes-revrent-de.html, article consulted on May 30, 2021

An information nest © – June 2021


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