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Stereotypes of animals

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A "wise old owl" in a 1940s poster from the War Production Board

When anthropomorphising an animal there are stereotypical traits which commonly tend to be associated with particular species. Often these are simply exaggerations of real aspects or behaviours of the creature in question, while other times the stereotype is taken from mythology and replaces any observation-based judgment of that animal's behavior. Some are popularised or solidified by a single particularly notable appearance in media. For example, Disney's 1942 film Bambi portrays the titular deer as an innocent, fragile animal.[1] In any case, once they have entered the culture as widely recognized stereotypes of animals, they tend to be used both in conversation and media as a kind of shorthand for expressing particular qualities.

While some authors make use of these animal stereotypes "as is", others undermine reader expectations by reversing them, developing the animal character in contrasting ways to foil expectations or create amusement, like a fastidious pig or cowardly lion.

Some modern stereotypes of animals have a long tradition dating back to Aesop's Fables, which draw upon sources that include ancient Egyptian animal tales. Aesop's stereotypes were so deeply ingrained by the time of Apollonius of Tyana that they were accepted as representative of the various types of animals' "true" natures:

And there is another charm about him, namely, that he puts animals in a pleasing light and makes them interesting to mankind. For after being brought up from childhood with these stories, and after being as it were nursed by them from babyhood, we acquire certain opinions of the several animals and think of some of them as royal animals, of others as silly, of others as witty, and others as innocent.


Animal stereotyping in general

Many animal stereotypes reflect anthropomorphic notions unrelated to animals' true behaviors. Carnivores, for instance, will be viewed as antagonists and their prey as the underdogs. Thus, while a shark feeds as nature intends, in folklore the shark tends to be stereotyped as "cruel", implying a conscious choice to inflict pain. Some stereotypes are based on mistaken or grossly oversimplified impressions; spotted hyenas, for example, commonly portrayed as cowardly scavengers, are efficient pack hunters with complex social structures.

Many misconceptions about animals were born out of ignorance. Due to a lack of biological research people were scared of certain species of whom they knew very little, apart from urban legends or occasional attacks that led to human deaths. Others were considered to be dangerous, merely because of their frightening appearance. This has led some animals to be portrayed as monsters, such as spiders, snakes, crocodiles, wolves, bats, rhinoceroses, gorillas, lions, tigers, bears, eagles, hawks, vultures, piranhas, sharks, whales, scorpions, ... The depiction of them as "monsters" is another example of oversimplification. Animals just follow their natural instincts and are not out to attack people, unless they happen to feel threatened and are in a position where they can't easily get away. Even predators will only possibly attack when hungry or to protect their offspring. In most cases animals are far more scared of people than the other way around and will likely run away.

In the opposite direction several animals who have a non-threatening appearance and actually look cute, cuddly, graceful and playful are often portrayed as adorable: rabbits, dogs, mice, kittens, sheep, seals, dolphins, chipmunks, monkeys, ladybugs, butterflies. Various pet owners tend to treat their pets almost as if they are toys or cute little babies. Once again, this is a serious oversimplification. Monkeys, for instance, may appear to be harmless, but like all animals can return to their natural instincts when people least suspect it and bite.

Despite these considerations, the use of animal stereotypes (the same goes to stereotypes of machinery in real life and fiction) are generally much less problematic than it is for human stereotypes.

Common Western animal stereotypes




  • The bloodthirsty or evil bat
  • Some fictional bats, like Bartok in Anastasia, Scaredy Bat in Ruby Gloom and Fu-Fu in the animated series Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat, are portrayed as timid and nervous.
  • The expression "as blind as a bat" is common but in reality bats are not blind.[4] Microbats have poor visual acuity while some megabats have very good vision.
  • Another stereotype associated with bats is that the animal will fly into one's hair. This is an urban legend. Bats can navigate very well in the dark thanks to echolocation.[5]
  • In many languages the word "bat" is cognate with the word "mouse", with the species being defined as either a "winged mouse" ("vlermuis" in Afrikaans, "vleermuis" in Dutch, "Fledermaus" in German, "fladdermus" in Swedish, "летучая мышь" in Russian), a "bald mouse" ("chauve-souris" in French), a "blind mouse" ("murciélago" in Spanish, "slijepi miš" in Bosnian), a "leather mouse" ("nahkhiir" in Estonian) or an "old mouse" ("saguzahar" in Basque). In reality bats are not related to mice, but belong to the Laurasiatheria.[6][7]





  • The cool, sly, charming and clever cat
  • The beautiful/sexy feline or pussycat
    • Cats are often portrayed as female, as opposed to dogs who are usually made their male counterpart. The feminine feline is a result of the gracious and elegant behaviour of real cats, which humans associated with females. In many languages "pussy" is both an affectionate nickname for female partners as well as a slang term for vagina. The word cougar is slang for an older woman with a younger male partner. Negative stereotypes about women also often have the word "cat" attached to them, such as a catfight. In a lot of Furry fandom stories cats tend to be the most prominent animals to be sexualized. In Japanese culture the legendary nekomata is a cat who at a certain age grows another tail, stands up and speaks in a human language. These cats too are often portrayed as women. Similarly, whenever women in popular culture take an animal guise or disguise it's usually a cat.
    • Examples: Penelope Pussycat, Nermal, Duchess, Doddeltje in Tom Puss, Catwoman, Omaha the Cat Dancer, ...
  • The cute cat, usually a kitten
  • The lazy cat
  • The evil, crafty, snarky, grumpy, mischievous, unreliable, or villainous cat
  • The lucky cat
    • In some cultures cats are believed to bring good luck. In Japan, for instance, the legendary maneki neko is a symbol of good fortune. Sailors often preferred to bring a black ship's cat along with them. Anarchists have used it as their symbol. And there is also the ancient belief that cats have multiple lives, which explains how they manage to survive so many unfortunate situations. In many countries cat's lives are traditionally believed to be nine, but in Italy, Germany, Greece and some Spanish-language regions it's said to be seven,[9] while in Turkish and Arabic traditions it's six.[10] The idea of cat's luck is also based on the fact that falling cats often land on their feet, using an instinctive righting reflex to twist their bodies around. Despite this ability they can still be injured or killed by a high fall.[11]
  • Examples: The maneki neko, Shisa, Felix the Cat was often dubbed to be "Felix the lucky cat", the motivational poster Hang in there, baby
  • The evil and/or unlucky black cat
  • Many legends, myths and folk tales talk about demonic cats or werecats who could change to enormous size, for example The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was, Cat sìth, Cath Palug, Matagot, Phantom cat, Yule Cat, Wampus cat, Beast of Bodmin, Demon Cat, Hombre Gato, Cactus cat, Bakeneko
  • The curious cat who gets himself into trouble
  • The frightened cat
    • When cats are frightened they tend to stretch their backs to appear bigger and more menacing. If that doesn't help they will quickly flee or jump past their aggressor. Cats also have a tendency to climb up trees and often refuse (or are unable) to come down, forcing their owner to call the fire service to rescue the cat. This type of behavior led to the expressions "scaredy-cat", "acting like a pussy" and the Dutch saying "een kat in het nauw maakt rare sprongen" (translation: "A threatened cat makes odd jumps", which means "desperate needs lead to desperate deeds.").
    • In horror movies cats are also used as a way to build suspense. A character may slowly walk towards a door, a cupboard, a closet or a hallway to check out a suspicious sound or movement, only to be given a jump scare by the fact that it was "only a cat."
    • Other pejorative expressions associated with cats can be found in the Dutch language. Kattengejank literally means "screaming cats" and is used to describe unpleasant singing. Kattenkwaad ("cat evilness") is used to describe bad children's behaviour.
  • The cat who fears water
    • While many cats prefer to lick themselves clean rather than be washed they can enjoy a bath if the water isn't too cold or too hot. Some cat species have water-resistant coats and thus don't mind swimming, like the Maine Coon and the Turkish Van. Bigger cats like tigers and jaguars also love swimming.[14]
  • The cat who loves milk
    • While cats adore to drink milk the kind available in supermarkets often contain little fat, which makes it difficult for them to digest. Like all infant mammals, kittens are born able to digest the main sugar in milk, lactose. Adult cats lack the enzyme that enables them to digest it, so they risk ending up with an upset stomach.[13]
    • Examples: The Dutch song "Poesie Mauw" ("Pussy Meow") is about someone calling a kitten because he has tasty milk for him.


  • The aggressive bull who attacks everyone and everything with the color red
    • This stereotype can be found in many comic strips and cartoons and is based on bullfighting where the bullfighter taunts the bull by waving a small red cape (muleta). This has led to the urban legend that bulls will attack anything in the color red. In reality bulls attack the waving cape instead of the color. The reason those capes have the color red is its association with blood and the tradition itself. Cattle are dichromats, so red does not stand out as a bright color.[15][16][17]
    • In popular culture all bulls used for bullfighting will be called "El Toro", which is simply Spanish for "the bull".
  • The vicious bull
    • Bulls have been used in many European coats of arms and weapon shields
    • In Greek mythology the Minotaur was a monster who was a man with a bull's head.
  • The powerful, mighty bull and the holy cow
  • Many ancient cultures have worshipped cattle as divine creatures. In Hinduism the holy cow is still in effect.
  • The dumb bull, cow, or calf
    • Since cattle seem to do nothing more than stand in grassy fields, obstruct traffic and stare at everything passing by, people have portrayed them as characters who are not very bright.
    • In many languages being called "a stupid cow" or "dumb calf" is an insult. Being "treated as cattle" or expressing a "herd mentality" are also pejorative expressions.
    • The urban legend of cow tipping is also based on this perception.
    • Example in fiction: Heffer Wolfe.
  • Cows are also brought into association with dairy products, since their milk is used to produce these items. For this reason they are popular as advertising mascots.


  • The super fast cheetah, often depicted as an athletic racer
  • Cheetahs are known for being the fastest land animal. However, it only uses this ability when following a prey and even then the chase will only last about a minute. If it can't make a kill quickly, it will give up. Afterwards it will be exhausted and retain its normal speed.



The urban legend that St. Bernard dogs carry a small barrel of brandy around their neck to warm victims lost in the snow originated from this painting by Edwin Landseer.



  • The unforgetting elephant
    • From the folk-saying "An elephant never forgets" and the expression "an elephant memory" (in some languages, such as Dutch, they speak of a "horse memory"). There are numerous anecdotes and examples of elephants who remembered information or incidents that happened decades earlier.[20] Scientific research has also proven that the hippocampus is linked to emotion through the processing of certain types of memory, especially spatial. This is thought to possibly be why elephants suffer from psychological flashbacks and the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[21][22]
  • The mice-fearing elephant
    • Because of the comedic image of such a large animal being so frightened of something so tiny, mice-fearing elephants have been a popular staple of children's novels, comic strips and cartoons. Elephants are known to be startled by sudden movements of various kinds of animals, including dogs, cats or snakes, but have not been found to fear mice especially.[23] Research has shown, however, that elephants are particularly afraid of bees.[24] In the 2007 MythBusters episode Shooting Fish in a Barrel the team found that an African elephant in the wild was in fact startled when it saw a mouse that they had released in its vicinity, and even turned back. As a result, the team deemed the myth "plausible".[25]
    • Examples: The story about elephants fearing mice goes back to A.D. 77, when Pliny the Elder mentioned it in his text "Natural History".[26] The image also appears in Dumbo, The Sword in the Stone and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
  • The wise, noble, kingly elephant
    • Since elephants are the largest land animals they have always imposed humans. In the Antiquity they were used in battle to scare off the opposing armies. In circuses elephants were star attractions due to their impressive size. During the 20th century biologists discovered that elephants are among the most intelligent animals and have often expressed behaviour that led people to suspect they are capable of feeling emotions (see also elephant cognition). Since then they are often portrayed as gentle giants.
    • Examples: Babar, Hathi, Horton, Tantor, Benjamin the Elephant
    • In Hinduism the god Ganesha has the appearance of an elephant.
  • The cute baby elephant that enjoys spraying others with water
  • The strict and imposing elephant who doesn't tolerate nonsense
  • Drunks are often depicted as if they see pink elephants or pink rabbits while intoxicated.
  • In a South-East Asian setting elephants will often be transporting people of the higher classes or tiger hunters on their back.
  • In popular culture elephants are usually seen eating peanuts.
  • In cartoons and comic strips elephants are able to play the trumpet with their trunk.
  • Elephants are often named "Hannibal", in reference to the Carthaginian general Hannibal who crossed the Alps with elephants.
    • Examples: Hannibal the elephant in the Nero album "Hannibal", ...
  • An ancient belief states that old elephants leave their herd and instinctively direct themselves toward a specific location known as an elephants' graveyard to die. This is an urban legend.[27]


Foxes are often stereotyped as sly and cunning tricksters, for instance in the famous fable of The Fox and the Crow, portrayed here on Léon Rousseau's painted panel of the fable, Musée Jean de La Fontaine.


  • The gentle giraffe
  • Giraffes are often stereotyped as gentle and dainty creatures, an image derived from the fact that they are tall and slender animals. For the same reason they are also often portrayed as female.
  • Giraffe necks are often portrayed as if they can function as a ladder, staircase or even a slide. This has no basis in reality as a giraffe's neck would not be strong enough to support the weight of a human.





  • The comical/always-laughing hyena, usually portrayed as a bully or a downright villain
    • A hyena call bears an uncanny resemblance to a human laugh. Hyenas are also scavengers, which led people to portray them as cowards who would rather steal meals from more successful predators than hunt or kill their prey themselves. This is a simplification of far more complex social structures and hunting tactics within the species.
    • Examples:
    • One of the rare examples of sympathetically portrayed hyenas are Harchi in Oscar's Oasis and Hardy Har Har in Lippy the Lion & Hardy Har Har, who is even depicted as a pessimist, rather than a jokester.

Kangaroos and wallabies



  • The suicidal lemming
    • Lemmings tend to migrate in large numbers, which can include jumping off cliffs into the water and swimming great distances to the point of exhaustion and even death, but such an outcome is unintended. The stereotype of lemmings jumping off cliffs as a deliberate act of suicide was influenced by a Disney documentary, White Wilderness (1958) where the animals were chased off a cliff by the documentary makers, purely for some sensational images.[28] The misconception itself is much older, dating back to at least the late 19th century.[29]


The Lion of Judah is an example of a lion portrayed as a noble monarch.


  • The spitting llama
    • Llamas spit at people in real life, but contrary to what most people think they don't actually spit saliva, but materials drawn from its stomach.



  • The blind or near-sighted mole
  • Due to the natural underground habitat of the mole, sight is not an important sense for the animal. However, this does not mean they are incapable of sight. In previous centuries people had the impression moles were blind and thus the saying "blind as a mole" stuck. In many stories moles will be depicted wearing glasses or shades.
  • The cute and shy little mole
    • Thanks to various children's stories, comic strips and cartoons moles are often portrayed as cute, shy creatures. In real life moles are indeed solitary creatures, but they tend to be seen as pests, especially by gardeners and farmers.
    • Examples of cute little moles: Mole in The Wind in the Willows, The Little Mole, Mole in The Animals of Farthing Wood, the tiny mole in the Belgian comic strip Mieleke Melleke Mol
  • The word "mole" means a "spy or impostor" in many languages. The TV series The Mole was based on this concept.


  • The slow-witted moose
    • The cartoon characters Bullwinkle J. Moose and Lumpy are portrayed as slow-witted, as are Rutt and Tuke from Brother Bear.
    • Sam Winchester from Supernatural is often compared to a moose because of his height and the Winchesters' habit of stating the obvious. For example, "It was night, and now it's day" and "Today is Tuesday, but yesterday was Tuesday, too".


  • The opossum which hangs by its tail
    • This is an urban legend. An opossum does use its semi-prehensile tail to stabilize position while climbing, but its adult body weight makes it impossible to hang from a tree by its tail alone.[30]
  • The opossum who "plays possum".
    • When threatened by predators an opossum may fall into a catatonic state, acting as if it is dead. This behaviour deters predators, as an animal which suddenly appears to die could have been suffering from illness. While opossums do fake their own deaths humans have often misinterpreted it as if the animal just faints, or is "playing". In reality the act of an opossum playing dead is a reflex action.[30]
  • Opossums are also often thought to be huge rats, which are rodents. They are actually marsupials.[30]




Polar bears

Rabbits and hares






  • The cute little sheep
  • The sacrificial lamb
    • Due to their innocent image lambs have been sacrificed in various cultures and religions.
    • Examples: Lamb of God.
  • The gullible sheep
    • Much like geese sheep are also a popular metaphor for people who bow down to herd mentality. Just like real sheep they will follow the dominant sheep or their shepherd and don't dare to move or think outside the crowd. The English words Sheeple and sheepish are derived from this image.
  • The black sheep
    • A black sheep standing out of a crowd of white sheep is also a popular metaphor, with two different interpretations. A "black sheep" is someone who unfavorably stands out within a group, a family, a company, a class room, etc., ... It can either be someone whose bad reputation is deserved or someone who is a victim or prejudice and discrimination. Penguins are sometimes used in this context as well.
    • Example: Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.



  • The smelly skunk
    • Chuck Jones' Pepé Le Pew is one of the best-known animated skunks and propagates the incorrect image that the animals emit their scent continuously. Human characters often run in panic from the mere sight or smell of a skunk.


  • The lazy, slow-witted sloth
    • This stereotype is largely true, as sloths do indeed move very slowly in reality due to their metabolism being very low. They are named for the one of the seven deadly sins, sloth, meaning spiritual apathy.
    • In the 2016 animated film Zootopia, sloths are depicted as performing basic tasks extremely slowly to the point where even completing basic sentences is difficult for them.
    • Sid the prehistoric sloth in the Ice Age films is depicted as lively and fast-talking, in contrast to the "slow" stereotype. However, he is also depicted as naive and foolish.

Squirrels and chipmunks




  • The sneaky and thieving weasel who always manages to flee
    • From the English sayings: "As scared as a weasel" and "to weasel out of a situation". A weasel word is a subjective term in an otherwise objective sentence.
    • The weasel in the song Pop Goes the Weasel is also fleeing from the monkey.
    • Other examples: The weasels in The Wind in the Willows and Who Framed Roger Rabbit
    • Exceptions: I. M. Weasel, the titular character in the cartoon I Am Weasel is portrayed as civilised, good-natured and a model citizen with many achievements. Buck from Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is another exception, being heroic and fearless but insane. Weekly in Blacksad is a tabloid journalist, falling into the sneaky stereotype, but is the best friend of the protagonist.
  • The backstabbing weasel
    • To call someone a weasel is to call someone treacherous.
    • Examples: The Professor from Conker's Bad Fur Day.


Wolves are often stereotyped as cruel, evil and seductive, for instance in the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, here illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Birds in general

  • Birds are often portrayed as stupid. The English language has the expression birdbrain, for people who aren't very bright. There are many urban legends about birds being so stupid that they accidentally hurt or kill themselves.[35][36]
  • Another expression, "eat like a bird", derives from the notion that birds have small appetites.
  • Some birds have an association with beauty, peace and love. In British English "bird" can mean "pretty, attractive girl". The fact that songbirds whistle has also contributed to an association with peace, beauty and tranquillity.
  • An often told story claims that when humans touch birds' eggs or baby birds their mother will later reject them, because of the human scent. This is an urban legend, because birds have a limited sense of smell and cannot detect human scent. The story was likely thought up to prevent people from accidentally breaking eggs or separate baby birds from their parents.[37]


  • The stupid, cowardly and easily frightened chicken
    • The term "chicken" has become a playful term for someone too scared to engage in a slightly intimidating task.
    • Since chickens can't fly very high they tend to run around whenever they are scared of something. This encouraged their stereotypical image as dumb and panicky creatures. In many languages the phrase "to run around/operate/work like a headless chicken" also expresses this image.
    • In the English language "to chicken out of something" means to appear a coward. Calling somebody "chicken" and cackling is seen as an insult.
    • Examples: Nanny from Count Duckula, several characters in Chicken Run, the song Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens
    • The three bold, fox-fighting chicken sisters in Foxbusters are a notable exception.
  • The sexy chicken
    • In many languages the word "chick" is used to describe an attractive human female.
    • A hen night is a bachelor party for women.
  • The motherly hen
  • The comedic chicken
  • The vain, macho cock/rooster
    • Roosters are polygamous animals. When rival roosters enter their territory they will attack them in cock fights. Therefore, humans have often stereotyped them as robust, tough, machoistic males. The words "cocky" and "cocksure" in English refer to assertive, arrogant behaviour,[38][39] while the Dutch term "haantjesgedrag" ("little rooster behaviour") defines boys or men trying to impose one another.[40] In English the word "cock" is also used as slang for the word "penis".[41]
    • Some countries or communities use roosters as their proud emblem: the Gallic rooster, for instance.
    • Roosters usually sit on high perches, looking out for their group. When it spots danger it will crow loudly. This led people to portray roosters as people who crave attention and suffer from delusions of grandeur. The image of the high perched rooster is also prevalent in Christian traditions, where statues of cocks are often put on top of church steeples as a weather vane.
    • Examples: The "Chanticleer and the Fox" tale from The Canterbury Tales, Foghorn Leghorn, Tortellini the rooster from the 1997 film The Fearless Four (based on the Town Musicians of Bremen), Markies de Canteclaer in Tom Puss, Rocky and Fowler in Chicken Run, General Tsao from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
    • Thanks to the story Chanticleer many cocks and roosters in fiction have this name or a variation thereof.
  • The cock/rooster whose cries announce the break of dawn
    • Roosters can be heard crowing as it begins to get lighter. In past centuries people believed the rooster controlled the rise of daylight and thus only crowed at this occasion. While roosters do indeed crow at dawn and therefore were often used as a prototypical alarm clock in past centuries,[42] they can and will crow at any time of the day, not just in the morning. The idea that the rooster scares the darkness away led to its worship in various religious belief systems. In English the word "cock-crow" is a synonym for "early morning".[43]
    • Examples: Chantecler in the eponymous play literally believes his crows cause the sun to rise.
  • The cute little chick

Game fowl

  • The skittish and shy quail who manages to evade hunters
    • Examples: Various cartoons from Warner Brothers and Disney
  • The proud peacock
    • From the saying: "as proud as a peacock".
    • Peacocks are often used as a symbol of vanity and pride.
  • The nervous pheasant


Crows and ravens

  • The ominous raven or crow
    • In ancient folklore ravens and crows were often seen as foretellers of death and destruction, as portrayed in Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven" Also, in Celtic and Irish myths, goddesses of war often appeared in the form of a raven or crow. The stereotype of ravens portraying death could stem from the fact that they are often seen feasting on the gore of dead soldiers after battle.
    • In Norse mythology Huginn and Muninn were ravens who brought the god Odin information and thus subverted this stereotype.
    • Crows and ravens are also often depicted as villains.
    • Examples: Diablo, Dolf in Alfred J. Kwak, and corvids such as General Ironbeak and his horde in the Redwall series
      • Subversions are Heckle and Jeckle, who are portrayed as sympathetic tricksters, and Salomo the raven in Paulus the woodgnome, who is portrayed as being very wise and erudite. The crows in Dumbo first mock Dumbo, but as they learn how he was mistreated they feel remorse and help him gain the confidence to use his ears for flying. Meneer de Raaf in the Dutch TV series De Fabeltjeskrant is a raven who can be sarcastic, but is still a good character.
  • The Afro-American crow
    • In the 19th and early 20th century white Americans often compared black people with crows, due to the black colour of the bird. Crows in these stereotypical depictions speak in jive.
    • Examples: Jim Crow, the crows in Dumbo, the comic strip and animated version of Fritz the Cat.



Eagles are often incorrectly portrayed as kidnappers of little children and animals, as shown here in this scene from D.W. Griffith's Rescued from an Eagle's Nest (1907).


  • The evil falcon
    • Falcons, like eagles, are predatory birds. They are used to kill pigeons for bird control and were used to intercept homing pigeons in both World Wars.
    • Examples: Shan Yu's falcon in Mulan, Falcon from Stuart Little 2, the German falcons from Valiant.




  • The thieving magpie
    • This image is derived from the belief that magpies sometimes steal shiny objects and bring them to their nest. In reality, while magpies do indeed steal, they do not target shiny objects, instead stealing food and the eggs of other birds.
    • Examples: the opera The Thieving Magpie by Gioacchino Rossini, the magpie in Alfred J. Kwak, the one in the Tintin album The Castafiore Emerald, and in cartoons such as Mr. Bean.


  • The nervous and easily frightened ostrich
    • Ostriches are often portrayed as being nervous and are widely thought to bury their heads in the sand at the first sign of danger. In reality this is not true; the ostrich is more likely to respond by fleeing, or, failing in that, delivering powerful kicks, easily capable of killing a man or a lion.[47]


A cemetery monument for Hungarian engineer Adolf Czakó in Kerepesi, depicting him in the presence of an owl, symbolizing the man's wisdom.

Parrots, cockatoos and mynahs

  • The talkative, annoying, and/or smartypants parrot/cockatoo/mynah (no distinction)
    • Parrots are also often portrayed as if they can actually converse with people, whereas real parrots can only mimic certain sounds.
    • Examples: Paulie, Beo the mynah in the Nero story Beo de Verschrikkelijke ("Beo the Terrible"), Flip in Jommeke, Nigel in Rio, Popugai in 38 Parrots, Iago and Preston from Garfield 2


  • The pelican who can carry people around in his throat pouch
  • In ancient Egypt pelicans were associated with death and the afterlife. As a result, they are depicted on a lot of walls of tombs and funerary text as a protective symbol.[49]
  • In medieval Europe pelicans were portrayed as being particularly attentive to their young, to the point of providing their own blood by wounding their own breast when no other food was available. This legend may be a result of the impression the bird gives that it appears to be stabbing itself with its bill. In reality, it often presses it onto its chest in order to fully empty the pouch. Another possible derivation is the tendency of the bird to rest with its bill on its breast; the Dalmatian pelican has a blood-red pouch in the early breeding season and this may have contributed to the myth. Since then the pelican came to symbolise the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist,[50] and usurped the image of the lamb and the flag.[51]


Pigeons and doves

12th century Venetian mosaic depiction of Noah releasing a dove after the Great Flood ended. This is one of the origins of the image of doves as symbols of peace and goodwill.
  • The peaceful dove
    • The peace dove is a universal symbol of pacifism and peace.
    • In biblical stories the dove is often used as a sign of goodwill or a peaceful messenger. This image can also be found in other religious and mythological traditions, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. Today doves are often released from cages into the open air to inaugurate a special event.
  • The loving pigeon couple.
  • The stool pigeon
    • In the English language the word "stool pigeon" refers to people who are secret informers or squealers. The image derives from the cooing sounds pigeons make.
  • The dumb pigeon
    • Like most other birds pigeons are frequently depicted as stupid. In Flemish dialect the word "simpele duif" ("simple pigeon") is a pejorative term used to refer to dumb or naïve people.[52]




Vultures and buzzards


Reptiles and amphibians

Alligators and crocodiles

A cartoon by Bernhard Gillam depicting Ulysses S. Grant in a crocodile suit, literally crying crocodile tears.
  • The weeping and hypocritical crocodile
    • Many political cartoons, legends and stories feature crocodiles who claim to be sad about someone else's grief and then cry fake tears as a result. This stereotype is based on the fact that in real life crocodiles can often be observed with teary eyes while they consume their dead prey. The reason for this behaviour is that crocodiles are unable to chew and thus are forced to rip their food into chunks and swallow them whole. Since the glands that keep their eyes moist are right near their throats this eating habit actually forces them to produce tears. This observation lead humans to believe that crocodiles are crying about the death of the animal they hypocritically just killed themselves and created the expression "crying crocodile tears", which means that one shows emotions without really meaning it.[53]
  • The villainous crocodile/alligator

Dinosaurs and pterosaurs

Frogs and toads


The Midgard Serpent in Norse mythology is an example of a snake being portrayed as an evil monster.


Turtles and tortoises

Fish and sea mammals






  • The gluttonous piranha
    • These fish are often portrayed as if they eat anything thrown into the water they swim in. Though piranhas are notorious for this behaviour, studies have proven that they don't always attack creatures in the water straight away.
    • Examples: Piranha (1978 film), the piranhas in You Only Live Twice.



  • The man-eating whale
    • Due to their enormous size, people have feared that whales will devour any creature. In reality, most whales live off plankton and are unable to swallow bigger creatures. (This definition of "whale", however, excludes the toothed whale family, many of whose members in English are not thought of as whales.)
    • Examples: Monstro in Pinocchio, Jonah and the Whale, Moby-Dick
  • The majestic, graceful, gentle whale
  • Another stereotype associated with whales is frequent leaping from the water, when it is actually relatively rare. See Cetacean surfacing behaviour.



  • The diligent ant
    • This stems mainly from a fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper, in which the ant works hard to prepare for the winter while the grasshopper wastes the summer and autumn having fun, only to have to beg food from the ant or starve.
    • Examples: The Ant and the Aardvark, in which the ant is often busy working.
  • The militant ant
    • Ants, like many animals that form colonies or hives, are known for working together like an army.[66][67] Some popular culture stories portray ants as military soldiers.
    • Example: the ants from Antz
  • The thieving/bothersome ant



  • The beautiful, graceful, peaceful butterfly
    • Butterflies are one of the few insects depicted as beautiful, rather than disgusting and/or repulsive. This image is derived from their often colourful wings and the fact that they are light and fragile creatures.

Crickets and grasshoppers




  • Ladybugs are always depicted as female in popular culture. This is a very old association. Though historically many European languages referenced Freyja, the fertility goddess of Norse mythology, in the names, the Virgin Mary has now largely supplanted her, so that, for example, "freyjuhœna" (Old Norse) and "Frouehenge" have been changed into "marihøne" (Norwegian) and "Marienkäfer" (German), which corresponds with "Our Lady's bird".[74] This also explains with it is one of the few insects associated with beauty, luck, peace and tranquility, making it a popular logo and mascot.
  • An antithesis would be Francis from A Bug's Life, who is tremendously troubled for constantly being mistaken for a female despite having a male voice and clearly identifying himself as a male.




Depiction of a gigantic octopus by Pierre Dénys de Montfort, 1801


  • The destructive termite
    • Because of the termite's reputation of eating wood and wrecking homes and buildings, which is greatly exaggerated in cartoons.



Common East Asian animal stereotypes

Animal stereotypes in East Asian cultures (China, Japan, Korea, etc.) include:

  • The loyal/savage dog
    • While domesticated dogs were welcomed, wild dogs were dangerous to both humans and their cattle.
  • The royal elephant
    • Most notable in Thailand and India, elephants are symbols of royalty.
  • The proud horse
  • The thieving mouse
    • As a mouse was a common pest, they were likened to thieves. However, in Japanese tradition, a mouse also guarantees a good harvest.
  • The comical or lecherous octopus
  • The stupid/rich pig
  • The lucky/acquisitive cat
    • Cats are said to bring luck to business ventures. Many Japanese video games feature anthropomorphic cats ("neko") in mercantile roles (e.g. Square's Secret of Mana) as well.
  • The cute kitten
    • Catgirls occupy a niche in Japanese otaku culture, most often as females dressed to some degree as a humanoid with cat elements like cat ears and a tail.
  • The devoted/tricky rabbit
    • The former is from a Buddhist story where a rabbit offered itself as a gift to Buddha by leaping into a fire. In Kojiki, a white rabbit appears as a trickster. This is also due to the mythology of the rabbit in the moon.
    • In a Korean folktale, a wise rabbit rescues a man from a greedy, ungrateful tiger.
  • The friendly snake[citation needed]
  • The proud tiger
  • The cruel tiger
    • The folktales about man-devouring tigers appear frequently in Korea. At times tigers can be gullible or loyal.
  • The wise and old turtle/tortoise
  • The protecting wolf
    • The wolf protected Japanese farmers crops from raiders.
  • The grateful/loyal magpie
    • In Korea, a magpie chirping near one's house indicates that long-anticipated guests are finally coming.
    • In one Korean folktale, a magpie sacrifices herself to save the man who rescued her chicks from a serpent.
  • In Japanese folklore, the kitsune and fox represent the trickster, similar to the jackal in Africa, or coyote and fox in North America.
  • In Japanese folklore, the tanuki and raccoon dog, are related, represents the trickster.
  • The buddies of friendly fish
  • The fabulous/rich frog and toad
  • The clever otter
  • The thinkful[definition?] seal
  • The joyful songbird
  • The cute and cruel bear
  • The brave and proud panda
  • The power and proud lion

Indian animal stereotypes

India has a rich tradition of animal stories and beast fables, including one of the world's oldest collections of stories, the Panchatantra and its later derivatives such as the Hitopadesha. Throughout these fables, the talking animals behave as humans (unlike the Aesop model, in which animals behave as animals), and are used to invoke characters with stereotypical personalities. There is also a distinction between wild and domesticated animals. Some common stereotypes include:

  • Lion: king of the forest; demonstrates all royal strengths and weaknesses. Brave, noble and proud but can be haughty and foolish. Has natural rivalry with the elephant.[88]
  • Jackal: greedy and cunning (akin to the fox in European tradition); sometimes punished but often gets away. Is often a manipulative minister to the king.[89]
  • Hare: small and vulnerable but compensates by being crafty, outwitting stronger rivals.[89]
  • Elephant (wild or domestic): noble, proud, strong; enemy of the lion but like the lion can be naive and, when in rut, wild and unpredictable.[90]
  • Cat (domestic or wild): cunning and hypocritical, with a calm appearance hiding murderous intentions.[91]
  • Tiger: Symbol of might and courage; celebrated as national animal of India.[92]
  • Dog: considered unclean and impure, reviled—not a pet but a pest; considered to lack self-respect.[90]
  • Mongoose: loyal and useful pet, best known for its natural enmity toward snakes. See The Brahmin and the Mongoose.[93]


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