Stereotypes of animals
- Not to be confused with Stereotypy (non-human)
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. 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.
- 1 Animal stereotypification in general
- 2 Common Western animal stereotypes
- 2.1 Mammals
- 2.1.1 Armadillos
- 2.1.2 Bats
- 2.1.3 Bears
- 2.1.4 Beavers
- 2.1.5 Camels
- 2.1.6 Cats
- 2.1.7 Cattle
- 2.1.8 Cheetahs
- 2.1.9 Deer
- 2.1.10 Dogs
- 2.1.11 Donkeys
- 2.1.12 Elephants
- 2.1.13 Foxes
- 2.1.14 Giraffes
- 2.1.15 Goats
- 2.1.16 Hippopotamuses
- 2.1.17 Horses
- 2.1.18 Hyenas
- 2.1.19 Kangaroos and wallabies
- 2.1.20 Koalas
- 2.1.21 Lemmings
- 2.1.22 Lions
- 2.1.23 Llama
- 2.1.24 Mice
- 2.1.25 Moles
- 2.1.26 Moose
- 2.1.27 Opossums
- 2.1.28 Otters
- 2.1.29 Pandas
- 2.1.30 Pigs
- 2.1.31 Polar bears
- 2.1.32 Rabbits and hares
- 2.1.33 Raccoons
- 2.1.34 Rats
- 2.1.35 Rhinoceroses
- 2.1.36 Seals
- 2.1.37 Sheep
- 2.1.38 Simians
- 2.1.39 Skunks
- 2.1.40 Sloths
- 2.1.41 Squirrels and chipmunks
- 2.1.42 Tigers
- 2.1.43 Walruses
- 2.1.44 Weasels
- 2.1.45 Wolves
- 2.2 Birds in general
- 2.2.1 Chickens
- 2.2.2 Game fowl
- 2.2.3 Cranes
- 2.2.4 Crows and ravens
- 2.2.5 Ducks
- 2.2.6 Eagles
- 2.2.7 Falcons
- 2.2.8 Geese
- 2.2.9 Ibises
- 2.2.10 Magpies
- 2.2.11 Ostriches
- 2.2.12 Owls
- 2.2.13 Parrots, cockatoos and mynahs
- 2.2.14 Pelicans
- 2.2.15 Penguins
- 2.2.16 Pigeons and doves
- 2.2.17 Songbirds
- 2.2.18 Storks
- 2.2.19 Swans
- 2.2.20 Vultures and buzzards
- 2.2.21 Woodpeckers
- 2.3 Reptiles and amphibians
- 2.4 Fish and sea mammals
- 2.5 Invertebrates
- 2.1 Mammals
- 3 Common East Asian animal stereotypes
- 4 Indian animal stereotypes
- 5 References
Animal stereotypification 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 you. Even domesticed animals should not be left unsupervised or unlocked, especially in the presence of children.
Despite these considerations, the use of animal stereotypes is generally much less problematic than it is for human stereotypes.
Common Western animal stereotypes
- Since armadillos are able to roll themselves up into a ball to defend themselves from harm, this image is popular in cartoons.
- The bloodthirsty or evil bat.
- Since the dawn of humanity people have been scared of bats due to their appearance and the fact that they, due to being nocturnal animals, are mostly active at night. In many cultures bats were seen as bad omens and symbols of fear and death. Witches are often portrayed in the company of bats, demons have bat-like wings and vampires are traditionally shown to be able to transform themselves into bats.
- The image of the blood sucking bat is mostly based on vampire stories. Among the 1,000 species only three species feed on blood and are therefore called "vampire bat"s, namely the common bat, white-winged vampire bat and the hairy-legged vampire bat, who all live only in Central and South America.
- Examples of evil bats: Dracula, Fidget from "Basil the Great Mouse Detective", Darkwing in Kamen Rider Knight, Velifer in BIMA Satria Garuda, Bats, Bats: Human Harvest, Bat Boy,...
- Rare examples of bats being portrayed as sympathetic creatures can be found in Silverwing and the heroic persona of Batman. In Chinese lore bats are symbols of longevity and happiness, while in Poland, Macedonia and Arabic culture they are seen as bringers of good luck. There are also sometimes used as heraldic emblems, see Bat (heraldry).
- Some fictional bats, like Bartok in Anastasia and Scaredy Bat in Ruby Gloom, are portrayed as timid and nervous.
- The expression "as blind as a bat" is common but in reality bats are not blind. 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.
- 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.
- The dumb, dopey, lazy, but loveable bear.
- The cuddly, sweet bear.
- An image based on the teddy bear.
- Examples: The baby bear in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Little Bears, Rupert Bear, Winnie the Pooh, Little Bear Bongo, Rasmus Klump, Boo-Boo Bear, Berenstain Bears, Bamse, Miś Uszatek, Sooty, Old Bear, Colargol, Paddington Bear, Bobo, Teddy Ruxpin, The Gummi Bears, The Care Bears, SuperTed, the 1988 film The Bear, Captain Bluebear, Snuggle, Cookie Bear, Brother Bear, Misha, Sushi from "Animals United",...
- The image of a loveable teddy bear is so strong in popular culture that subversions of this image, portraying a shocking menacing or misbehaving cute bear, have become a modern stereotype in itself.
- Examples: Robert Crumb's Cute Little Bearzie Wearzies, The Threatening Bears, The Bear in "Bo' Selecta", Naughty Bear, Bear, Pedobear, Misery Bear, Ted,...
- The strong and vicious bear.
- Several European regions have bears in their coat of arms, including Berlin. The bear is also the national symbol or Russia. In mythology powerful bears are also popular: Jambavan, Nandi Bear, Otso,...
- The term mama grizzly refers to mothers who defend their children with ferocity.
- Examples: Lokis, the bear from Grizzly, the bear from The Fox and the Hound, Vincent from "Over The Hedge", and Mor'du from Brave.
- The hard working beaver.
- This image is based on the fact that beavers are always building dams and led to the expression "busy as a beaver"
- Examples: Toothy, and Handy from Happy Tree Friends, Norbert and Daggett from The Angry Beavers, Beaver from Franklin the Turtle, the beavers from "Open Season", the beaver in Lady and the Tramp, Ed and Willem Bever in De Fabeltjeskrant,...
- The rude, snobbish camel.
- The cool, sly, charming and clever cat
- Cats are crafty hunters who will sneak upon their prey.
- In Ancient Egypt they were seen as holy creatures and worshipped. Bastet and Sekhmet were cat goddesses. See also Cats in ancient Egypt.
- During the jazz era slick men would be nicknamed "cool cats" or "hep cats".
- Examples: Puss in Boots, Cheshire Cat, Felix the Cat, Tom Puss, The Hep Cat, Top Cat, The Cat in the Hat, Fritz the Cat, The Aristocats, Blacksad, ...
- 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.
- Examples: Tom Kitten, Samuel Whiskers, the cats in the paintings of Louis Wain, Tabitha Twitchit, Figaro, the kitty in Bad Luck Blackie, Poussy, Pussyfoot, the little kittens in The Aristocats, Tom Poes, Musti, Hello Kitty, Billy the Cat, Garnet,...
- The Garfield character Nermal and the Krypto the Superdog character Snooky Wookums are ironic representations of this stereotype
- On the Internet many images and short videos portray cute cats, see The Internet and cats and especially The Lolcat, who is typically portrayed as unable to use proper grammar, spelling and general proper use of the English language.
- The lazy cat.
- The evil, crafty, snarky, grumpy, mischievous, unreliable or villainous cat.
- Cats are quite anti-social animals in human eyes, preferring to go out and mind their own business. Since cats hunt mice, a much smaller animal, humans' sympathy has always gone to the mouse rather than the cat, despite mice being considered vermin by most people. A cruel game where the hunter teases his victim before finally striking him is called a "cat-and-mouse game" in many languages. The concept is based on the behavior that real cats often display before killing their prey and which is often misunderstood as cruel torture. In reality it's just an instinctive imperative to make sure their prey is weak enough to be killed.
- Cats are often depicted eating mice, while they also hunt other small creatures. Yet, especially in children's stories, comic strips and cartoons, cats are predominantly portrayed as the sworn rival, threat or enemy of mice. Examples: the Belling the cat fable, Krazy Kat and Ignatz, Mickey Mouse and Pegleg Pete, Tom and Jerry, Jaq, Gus and Lucifer, Herman and Katnip, Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks, Leopold the Cat and Mitya and Motya, Squeak the Mouse, Itchy and Scratchy,...
- Examples of villainous cats: The Cat from "Pinocchio", Pegleg Pete, Tom from Tom and Jerry, Azrael, Si and Am, the cats in An American Tail, Sylvester, Mr. Jinks, Catbert,Sénéchal, Lucifer,Meowth, The Cat from Pinocchio, The Cat from Hell, Blanche in the film "House",...
- 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, while in Turkish and Arabic traditions it's six. 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 gift they can still be injured or killed by a high fall.
- 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.
- In Western culture ancient superstition depicted black cats as bringing bad luck. One medieval superstition claimed that cats could kill baby's by sucking their breath, which is impossible since cats can't fully close their lips. However, unlucky black cats are mostly a superstition found in Catholic countries. In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and Asia black cats are seen as bringers of good luck.
- Examples of "bad luck" black cats: The Black Cat, Bad Luck Blackie,...
- In medieval Europe black cats were also associated with witches. Many believed them to be demons in disguise.
- Examples of black cats as witches' pets: Graymalkin, cat of the three witches in Shakespeare's "Macbeth", Cosmic Creepers, Gobbolino, Salem, ...
- 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 in trees and often refusing to come down, which causes their owners to call for the fire guards. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In popular culture all bulls used for bullfighting will be called "El Toro", which is simply Spanish for "the bull".
- The vicious bull.
- 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.
- Examples: Apis, Io, the Sacred bull, Bulls of Guisando, the Cretan bull, Camahueto, Kamadhenu, Khalkotauroi, Ox in Chinese mythology, Nandi, Ushi-oni, Auðumbla, Glas Gaibhnenn,..
- 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 majestic deer.
- The cute little deer.
- Reindeer in particular are associated with the Christmas holidays, being traditionally depicted as Santa Claus's reindeer.
- The clever kancil (mouse deer).
- The loyal or heroic dog.
- Dogs are often called "man's best friend". Many stories feature them as heroes who save the day or help their master in dangerous situations. Detectives and police often use them to track criminals. They are also often used as watch dogs and guide dogs .
- Examples: Argos, Patrasche, Buck in Call of the Wild, Pluto, Old Yeller, Benji, Krypto the Superdog, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Bessy, 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Huckleberry Hound, Ace the Wonder Dog, Snowy, Dogmatix, Joost the loyal butler (Tom Poes), Bill, Black Bob, Foofur, Balto, Goliath, Bolt,...
- The dim-witted dog.
- Originates from the impulsive nature of the dog.
- Examples: Goofy, Odie the Dog, Reddy, Rantanplan, Marmaduke, Santa's Little Helper, 2 Stupid Dogs, Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Dum, Hong Kong Phooey,...
- While dogs are often portrayed as heroic, brave and strong they don't tend to be portrayed as intelligent that often, though there have been exceptions: Droopy, Snoopy, Dogbert, Brian Griffin, Gromit, Goliath, Mr. Peabody, Tekko Taks, Fokkie Flink, Top Dog,...
- The vicious dog.
- Bull dogs, pitbull terriers, Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers and German Shepherds are used to guard homes and public locations and known for barking loudly to scare away intruders. Apart from these guard dogs there are also attack dogs, which take this image a step further.
- Examples: Spike (Tom and Jerry), Butch (the nemesis of Pluto), Hector the Bulldog, Sharky from Eek! the Cat, Cujo, Muttley, Scud (Toy Story), The Hound of the Baskervilles, Gnasher, Hiep Hieper and Bul Super (Tom Poes).
- In legends there is the hellhound or black dog, exemplified by Cerberus, Garmr, Gwyllgi, Cù Sìth, the black cadejo, Black Shuck, Barghest, Church Grim, Moddey Dhoo, Gytrash, Dip,...
- The rabid dog also ignited the stereotype of the wild and dangerous dog.
- Example in fiction: Cujo
- Many stories, especially cartoons, portray them as the natural enemy of cats and tend to lead the audience's sympathy towards them.
- Examples: Spike and Tom, Bruno and Lucifer, Cubitus and Sénéchal, Puss 'n' Boots, Garfield and Odie, Meebo and Zuky,...
- Only in a few exceptions are cats and dogs actually portrayed as friends:
- Examples: Offissa Bull Pup and Krazy Kat, Marc Anthony and Pussyfoot, Spiff and Hercules (have a love-hate friendship), the red cat and Lotje the dog in Jan, Jans en de Kinderen, Blacksad and Smirnov in Blacksad, Fencer the cat lives among Foofur and his dog friends,...
- The cute puppy.
- The depressed or low-key basset hound.
- The crime-solving and -fighting bloodhound or German Shepherd Dog, often antropomorphized as a detective or police inspector.
- The guarding bull dog.
- Bull dogs tend to be stereotyped as vicious guard dogs or anthropomorphized as police officers.
- Examples: Offissa Bull Pupp in Krazy Kat, Spike, Marc Anthony, Officer Bulle Bas in Tom Poes, Butch (the nemesis of Pluto), Hector the Bulldog,...
- English Bulldogs have become a symbol of the United Kingdom.
- The posh/snobbish poodle, often voiced with a French accent
- Example: Georgette in Oliver & Company.
- Saint Bernards are often portrayed carrying a small barrel of brandy around their neck to warm victims lost in the snowy mountains. This is, however, an urban legend, originating in a painting by Edwin Landseer called "Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler." 
- The feisty or hyperactive small dog.
- The stubborn, stupid, lazy or slow ass.
- Examples: The Golden Ass, Buridan's Ass, Nick Bottom, Maud, Platero, Contrary Mary, Rabadash (who is changed into a donkey as a form of humilitation), Donkey, stupid and naughty children are transformed into donkeys in Pinocchio, the donkey in most adaptations of the Town Musicians of Bremen,...
- The English expression "you are making an ass out of yourself" refers to dumb behaviour.
- In previous centuries schools often forced naughty or "dumb" pupils to sit in a classroom corner while wearing a donkey-eared dunce cap.
- In many cultures parading on donkey is used as a humiliating punishment.
- The Dutch word for mnemonic is "ezelsbruggetje", literally "donkey bridge".
- In Dutch, the word "ezel" is also used as an insult, denoting dumb or stubborn people.
- Exceptions are Eeyore, Benjamin in "Animal Farm", Wise Donkey, the donkey of Sinterklaas in The Adventures of Nero, Baba Looey who are all smart donkeys. Also, in Christian religious tradition donkeys do get some respect as the simple but noble animal that Joseph the Carpenter and Maria rode when they fled Egypt and who, together with the ox, warmed baby Jesus with its breath, hence characters like Little Donkey and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.
- 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"). Elephants have indeed good memories. There are numerous anecdotes and examples of elephants who remembered information or incidents that happened decades earlier. 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 be possibly why elephants suffer from psychological flashbacks and the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- The mice-fearing elephant.
- Elephants, despite their huge size, are anxious about nearby sounds or movement they can't identify. In that regard they may be afraid of any unexpected tiny creature, not just mice but also small dogs. 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 ever since. In the 2007 MythBusters episode Shooting Fish in a Barrel the team discovered to their amazement that an African elephant in the wild was indeed startled when it saw a mouse that the team had released in his vicinity. The pachiderm even turned back. As a result, the team deemed the myth "plausible".
- Examples: The story about elephants fearing mice goes back to A.D. 77, when Pliny the Elder mentioned it in his text "Natural History". The image also appears in Dumbo, The Sword and the Stone and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
- The noble, imposing 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 always were star attractions due to they 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.
- The strict and imposing elephant who doesn't tolerate nonsense.
- Drunks are often depicted as if they see pink elephants or pink rabbits while being 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.
- The wily, cruel, cunning or intelligent fox
- In many fables, legends, fairy tales and myths they were portrayed as cunning animals who always try to trick others and get away without being punished for it. The medieval West-European legends about Reynard the Fox are the best known example. Thanks to this tale many foxes in popular culture are named Reynard, Rénard, Reintje, Reineke or variations thereof. In French the word "rénard" even means "fox".
- In the fable The Fox and the Crow by Jean de La Fontaine a fox spots a raven sitting in a tree with a piece of cheese. He then tricks it by asking him to sing for him, whereupon the cheese falls out of the crow's beak unto the ground, where the fox can grab it away and eat it.
- In the fable The Fox and the Stork the fox tricks a stork by stealing his food, only to be tricked himself when the stork puts all his food in a long tube that only his bird beak can reach.
- Examples of foxes being portrayed as cunning antagonists: Teumessian fox, Kitsune, The fable of the Fox and the Cat, The Fox and the Cat in Pinocchio, The Fox and the Grapes, The Wedding of Mrs. Fox, Mr. Tod, Lowieke de Vos in De Fabeltjeskrant, Marlfox, Mei Ling in Kung Fu Panda Legends of Awesomeness, ...
- In Japanese mythology the nine-tailed fox Kitsune is portrayed as being both a good as well as a bad spirit.
- More sympathetic portrayals of foxes: Genkurō, The Greek Princess and the Young Gardener,Vuk, Gon, the Little Fox, Robin and Marian in Disney's Robin Hood, Fantastic Mr. Fox, the foxes from The Fox and the Hound, Fox from The Animals of Farthing Wood, Slylock Fox & Comics for Kids, Tails and Fox from Skunk Fu are all depicted as good and noble characters.
- 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's necks are often portrayed as if they can function as a ladder, staircase or even a slide. Suffice to say that this bears no truth in reality, since their necks are not strong enough for this purpose, nor designed to be used that way.
- Examples: In Annie M.G. Schmidt's children's poem Dikkertje Dap the little child Dikkertje Dap uses the giraffe's neck as a slide. The Giraffe in Roald Dahl's The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me is used as a ladder during window washing. In the children's book Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys Cecily Giraffe is used as a ladder during a fire emergency.
- The omnivorous goat.
- Goats are usually anthropomorphized as old men with a goatee.
- The scapegoat.
- In Judeo-Christian religious traditions goats have gained an association with sin and evilness. The term scapegoat refers to people who are blamed for other people's faults, even if its unfair. Satan is traditionally portrayed with a goatlike beard, horns and hooved legs. Christians based this image of the faun, a Greek mythological creature who also resembles a goat and is often seen engaging in hedonistic activities. The 18th century West-European legend of the Buckriders also depicted ghostly demons riding on the back of flying goats.
- The cute little goat.
- Just like sheep there have been portrayals of goats as cute, cuddly little creatures too.
- Examples: The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, The Goat and Her Three Kids, Three Billy Goats Gruff, Koziołek Matołek, Biquette in Johan and Peewit, The Pet Goat,...
- The female hippopotamus who acts like an obese human lady.
- Examples: Hyacinth Hippo in Fantasia, Gloria in Madagascar, Hoppopotamus in The Wuzzles, Rocko's Modern Life, George and Martha in George and Martha (despite being male, George still has a pink color and effeminate characteristics, showing how persistent the stereotype is), and Tillie in Cats Don't Dance. The hippo in the Suske en Wiske story Het Zingende Nijlpaard ("The Singing Hippo") is the daughter of a farao who was changed into a hippo by an evil spell.
- The gluttonous hippo.
- Examples: Hungry Hungry Hippos.
- The dumb hippo.
- The noble, brave, faithful, strong and fast horse.
- Horses are traditionally seen as noble creatures since humans use them for transport. In quite a few countries, like Great Britain, eating horse meat is therefore seen as a taboo. Many languages describe the horse's paws as "legs", an honor that few other animals receive.
- The word horse power.
- The mythological creatures centaurs, Pegasus, and unicorns
- Princes or swashbucklers will always travel by horse to underline all their positive characteristics.
- Examples of noble horses: Bayard, Black Beauty, Rocinante, Mr. Ed, Flicka, The Black Stallion, Trigger, Silver, Jolly Jumper, Pegasus, Sleipnir, Quick Draw McGraw, Tornado, the horse of Sinterklaas (named "Amerigo" in the Netherlands and "Slechtweervandaag" in Flanders), ...
- The virile horse.
- The lovable mare and/or cute pony.
- The "dark horse", from equestrian sport, refers to any member of a contest who wins or is predicted to win, despite initially being considered unlikely to do so.
- Only seldom are horses cast as villains or as bringers of evil.
- 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.
- In North African folklore the werehyena was their equivalent of the werewolf.
- In Middle Eastern literature and folklore striped hyenas were often referred as symbol of treachery and stupidity.
- The Hyena-Swine in H. G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau is also portrayed as a menacing antagonist.
- Supervillain The Joker owns two pet hyenas, Bud and Lou.
- Shenzi, Banzai and Ed in The Lion King are henchmen of Scar the villainous lion.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Pack" hyena possessed bullies appear.
- The hyena in Bedknobs and Broomsticks is part of a vicious soccer team.
- Zig in Zig & Sharko always tries to eat Marina the mermaid, but fails.
- 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 boxing kangaroo and wallaby.
- Another myth associated with the kangaroo is that people can climb inside its pouch and be carried around, which is physically impossible. This general misconception was famously debunked in The Simpsons episode Bart vs. Australia.
- The cute, cuddly koala.
- The clever or wise koala.
- 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. However, in these cases it's pure accidental and not intentionally trying to kill itself. Lemmings don't even deliberately throw themselves off cliffs. This stereotype 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.
- The proud, brave, noble or royal lion.
- From the assumed position at the "top" of the food chain, the lion is often referred to as the "king of beasts" or "king of the jungle", (even though lions do not live in jungles) and is frequently portrayed as the literal ruler of the other animals in a given territory.
- The expression "a lion's share".
- Examples include The Lion King, Kimba the White Lion, the first movement of Camille Saint-Saëns' musical piece Carnival of the Animals, Socrates in Animals United, King Nobel in Reynard the Fox, King Franz Ferdinand in Alfred Jodocus Kwak, Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia series, King Richard in Disney's Robin Hood,...
- Many European regions and countries use a lion in their coat of arms or flag.
- In Ancient Egypt the sphinx is used as a guarding statue, while in China Chinese guardian lions were used for the same purpose.
- The spitting llama.
- Llama's spit at people in real life, but contrary to what most people think they don't actually spit spit, but materials drawn from its stomach.
- The quiet mouse.
- Examples: The Dormouse, Mrs. Tittlemouse, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, Stuart Little, Mrs. Frisby, Chlorophylle, Sibylline, Geronimo Stilton, Topo Gigio,...
- The heroic mouse.
- Mice are often depicted as heroic characters who have to fight enemies bigger than they are, especially cats. This is actually ironic, since mice are considered vermin by most people.
- Examples: The Lion and the Mouse, Reepicheep, Mickey Mouse, Sniffles , Jerry, Timothy Q. Mouse, Speedy Gonzales, Herman, Pixie and Dixie, Mushmouse, Mighty Mouse, Jake and Gus, Chlorophylle, Sibylline, Bernard and Bianca, Danger Mouse, Mrs. Frisby, Basil of Baker Street, Stuart Little, the mice in Redwall,
- Only in rare instances are cats and mice portrayed as friends, rather than enemies. Examples: Snooper and Blabber, Ruff and Reddy, Fievel Mousekewitz and Tiger,...
- The villainous mouse.
- Mice are rarely depicted as villainous characters. The few exceptions are The Mouse King, Hubie and Bertie, the mice from Scaredy Cat, Squeak the Mouse, Brain and Itchy from Itchy and Scratchy, who is a heroic character within The Simpsons universe, but whose sadistic actions are satirically depicted as being cruel and random.
- The blind or near sighted mole.
- Moles don't need eyesight because they crawl under the ground most of the time and can find their way thanks to their smell-sensitive noses. In earlier 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 little fellows. 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.
- Sam Winchester from Supernatural is often compared to a moose because of his height and how the Winchesters are great at stating obvious things. i.e. "It was night, and now it's day" and "Today is Tuesday, but yesterday was Tuesday, too".
- The opossum who hangs by its tail.
- The opossum who "plays possum".
- When threatened by predators an opossum may fall into a catatonic state, while it acts as if it's dead. Its body turns limp, his eyes remain wide open and can even remain in this state for several hours. Predators are always turned off by this behavior, because they assume something must be wrong with their prey, possibly an illness. While opossums do fake their own deaths humans have often misinterpreted it as if the animal just faints or "plays a game". In reality the animal makes use of a genetically programmed reflex action.
- Opossums are also often thought to be a huge rat, while it's unrelated to these species. They are actually marsupials.
- The cute and cuddly panda.
- The obnoxious, filthy, greedy, ugly and/or dirty pig
- All these aspects are due to the natural pig lifestyle (when raised on a farm rather than a feedlot)—"greedy" from the way they devour any food put in front of them, "filthy" from the fact that a pig-sty is generally a soup of mud and feces which the pigs don't seem to mind at all (this also gives rise to the saying "As happy as a pig"). The stereotype may also derive in part from Judeo-Islamic cultures, whose concepts of kosher/halal teach that pigs are "unclean" for various reasons.
- "Pig" is a pejorative nickname for a filthy or ugly person in many languages. It also is a derogatory word for the police in English slang, which is why all policemen in Fritz the Cat are pigs, and why Chief Wiggum of The Simpsons resembles a pig.
- Examples: Miss Piggy is often portrayed as being not as beautiful as she thinks.
- If a particular ugly and filthy pig is needed it will usually be a wild boar or a warthog.
- Examples: Bebop, Pumbaa, Karnac from Thunder Oak, the infected boars of Princess Mononoke,...
- A piggybank also contributes to pigs' association with greed.
- Examples: Napoleon and other pigs in Animal Farm.
- Giant wild boars are also popular in mythological and horror stories, where they are often cast as monsters.
- Pigs are also portrayed as straight men or sidekicks.
- The cute piglet.
- The wise pig
- Appears in Korean culture stories.
- The ravenous polar bear.
- The heroic polar bear.
- The cute polar bear.
Rabbits and hares
- Rabbits and hares are often confused with one another, while rabbits tend to be much smaller than hares. In the Bugs Bunny series, for instance, Bugs' species is left ambiguous. He and other characters often refer to him as a rabbit, while some title cards describe him as a hare, like The Wild Hare.
- The horny rabbit or hare.
- The hyperactive/fast-running rabbit/hare (Again, generally not distinguished from each other.)
- The scared rabbit or hare.
- Rabbits and hares can dash away very quickly and seldom seem at ease. The expression "scared as a rabbit" reminds of this image.
- Example: The fable The Frightened Hares, where hares feel they are so cowardly that they might as well all jump into the river and kill themselves. Only when they notice frogs jumping away from them they realize there are others who are more afraid of them. .
- More examples: The rabbits in Watership Down mostly have fear as a primary character trait (from Fiver's dream-inspired journey away from destruction, to Cowslip's utter denial of the horror his warren faces, to the Efravan colony's acceptance of a police state to ward off dangers).
- The smart rabbit or hare
- Rabbits also symbolize luck, as in a rabbit's foot.
- The cute little bunny.
- Examples: Easter Bunny, Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Funny Little Bunnies, Thumper, Cutey Bunny, Gianconiglio, The Tale Of The Flopsy Bunnies, Pat the Bunny, The Book of Bunny Suicides,...
- Just like bears (see above) the vicious, menacing or otherwise vulgar bunny has become a common subversion of this cute image.
- Examples: Frank the demonic rabbit in Donnie Darko, the Rabbit of Caerbannog, The Year of the Angry Rabbit, Bunnicula, Night of the Lepus, Greg the Bunny, It's Happy Bunny, the plot of Watership Down involves many gruesome deaths of rabbits,...
- The criminal or scavenging raccoon.
- The evil, filthy or kleptomaniacal rat.
- In contrast with mice, rats are almost always depicted as villains or dangerous creatures. This image is also derived from the rats' reputation as a carrier of The Black Death and other diseases.
- Examples: The Giant Rat of Sumatra, the rat in Lady and the Tramp, Anthracite in Chlorophylle, Anathème Percemiche in Sybilline, Professor Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective, the rats in Redwall, Willard, Colo Colo, grouchy shop assistant Pastuiven Verkwil and sensationalist journalist Argus in Tom Puss,...
- Rat plagues or huge hords of rats are a common horrific image in stories: Pied Piper of Hamelin, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, Willard, Rats: Night of Terror, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Rats
- A few sympathetic depictions of rats do exist, however: Ben, the title character in the film Ben, Splinter, Rizzo the Rat, Remy in Ratatouille and The Rats of Nimh in The Secret of NIMH, ...
- Another urban legend associated with rats is the Rat king. People often found rats intertwined with all their tails and stuck together. This strange phenomenon lead to the belief that the rats did this to choose a new king.
- The aggressive or villainous rhinoceros:
- The comical, playful seal:
- The cute little sheep.
- An image derived from its soft wool. Many nursery rhymes talk about cuddly, sweet and innocent sheep. Children who are not tired enough to go to sleep are often told to count sheep.
- Examples: Shaun the Sheep, Pleasant Goat (who, despite his name, is a lamb), Lamb Chop, Derek the Sheep
- In Judeo-Christian religious traditions sheep are often used as metaphor for good people who need to be kept on the good path by a shepherd (often a metaphor for a priest or God or Jesus Christ himself). Examples can be found in the Parable of the Lost Sheep and The Sheep and the Goats.
- The sacrificial lamb.
- Due to their innocent image lambs have been sacrificed in various cultures and religions.
- Examples: Lamb of God.
- The gullible sheep.
- 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 funny and/or mischievous monkey and/or ape.
- Out of all animals apes and monkeys have the strongest physical and behaviorial resemblance to humans. In circus acts and comedy films they are often dressed up and made to perform tricks that mimick human behaviour. Especially chimpanzees and little monkeys are popular with children because of this stereotypical portrayal. However, simians can be unpredictable and therefore dangerous. When people are caught off guard they can easily create mayhem by climbing on top of things, grab stuff away or even attack people.
- Examples: Curious George, Cheeta and Terk from the Tarzan franchise, Mighty Joe Young, Jocko in Jo, Zette and Jocko, Choco in Jommeke, Chee-Chee in Tor, Magilla Gorilla, King Louie, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, Abu, Boots in Dora The Explorer, Kongo, from Misha.
- The Three wise monkeys image also falls into the idea that monkeys are too dumb to acknowledge a problematic situation.
- The monstrous or brutish ape (usually a gorilla or orangutan)
- The word "gorilla" is used in many languages to describe a heavy thug or body guard. The term 800-pound gorilla refers to a person or organization so powerful it can act without regard to the rights of others or the law.
- Before the 20th century many people saw apes as brutish monsters, not unlike a hairy "man-beast".
- Examples: King Kong, General Ursus, many Bigfoot stories, the Yeti,...
- The amorous ape who lusts for human women.
- The imitating ape or monkey.
- Apes and monkeys are able to adapt behavioral patterns quite swift and efficiently. The Hundredth monkey effect is based on this phenomenon. The downside of their talent for mimickry is that people see monkeys as dumb creatures who imitate everything without actually understanding what they are doing, even foolish or dangerous behaviour. The metaphor Infinite monkey theorem and the idiom monkey see, monkey do are based on this idea.
- The smelly skunk.
- The lazy sloth.
Squirrels and chipmunks
- The hyperactive squirrel.
- The vicious tiger.
- The heroic and powerful tiger
- Walruses are often anthropomorphized as fat, heavy-weight bald men with bushy moustaches. Usually they are grumpy sea captains or high society businessmen who cannot be trusted.
- Examples: The Walrus and The Carpenter, Wally Walrus, Captain Wal Rus (Tom Poes), Kapitein Stoppel (Alfred J. Kwak), ..
- 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 snuck into 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.
- The cruel or evil wolf.
- Humans have feared wolves since the dawn of men because the animals attacked them and their farm animals. At night, people were creeped out by wolves howling in unison.
- Monstrous wolves are found in many legends and myths, often overlapping with hellhound creatures: Fenrir, Amarok, Marchosias, Wolf of Gubbio, Beast of Gévaudan, ...
- The Big bad wolf is a recurring antagonist in fables and fairy tales.
- Examples: The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Dog and the Wolf, The Wolf and the Crane, The Wolf and the Lamb, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, The Goat and Her Three Kids, Peter and the Wolf,...
- In comic strips, cartoons and other children's stories evil wolves are also omnipresent.
- Examples: The Big Bad Wolf in Disney's The Three Little Pigs, the unnamed wolf in Tex Avery's work, Wile E. Coyote, Bor de Wolf in De Fabeltjeskrant, Volk (Волк), Mildew Wolf, Big Big Wolf, the wolf in Hoodwinked,...
- The werewolf is another evil stereotype in association with wolves. In past centuries people have often been accused of being werewolves. A disease named hypertrichosis may explain the origin of this myth.
- Examples: Rougarou, Wulver, Reynardine, Pricolici, The Wolf Man, An American Werewolf in London,...
- The hungry or lusting wolf.
- The wolf in disguise.
- Wolves are frequently portrayed as tricksters and/or dangers in disguise. The phrase A wolf in sheep's clothing refers to people who appear to be friendly, but are actually dangerous. The oldest versions of Little Red Riding Hood have sexual undertones which portray the wolf as a perverted man trying to seduce an innocent girl by telling her to stray from her usual path and later disguise himself as her grandmother. In fairy tales like The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids and The Goat and Her Three Kids the wolf disguises himself as the goat's mother to trick her children. The Big Bad Wolf in Disney's The Three Little Pigs also puts on disguises a lot.
- The honorable wolf.
- Though wolves have mostly been portrayed negatively throughout the centuries there have been exceptions. In many stories wolves have raised little orphans: Romulus and Remus, Mowgli,... The scouts even have the honorary word akela for a female scouts leader, which is derived from the character Akela in Jungle Book.
- Much like lions wolves have also been used a lot in heraldry: Wolves in heraldry.
- Through the latter half of the 20th century, the wolf was increasingly portrayed in the opposite manner of the evil wolf, as an especially dignified and capable wild form of dog and symbol of nature. (e.g. the Kevin Costner film, Dances with Wolves). Some sympathetic portrayals of wolves have also turned up in comics and cartoons: Pugacioff, Loopy De Loop, Lupo Alberto, Vučko, Hoodwinked, ...
- In 1997 an Ikea stuffed toy wolf, Lufsig, became a symbol of resistance against the government of Hong Kong.
- The solitary or renegade wolf
- From the phrase "lone wolf"
- The wolf who howls at the moon.
- Wolves are nocturnal animals and thus can often be heard howling faced toward the sky, which gave humans the impression that they are actually crying directly at the moon. In reality wolves are communicating with other members of their species and just point their faces upward so that the sound carries farther.
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.
- 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. The terms The birds and the bees and Chicken or the egg both refer to birth and the act of love.
- 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.
- The stupid, cowardly and easily frightened chicken.
- 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, while the Dutch term "haantjesgedrag" ("little rooster behaviour") defines boys or men trying to impose one another. In English the word "cock" is also used as slang for the word "penis".
- 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.
- Cocks can be heard crowing as soon as the first daylight arrives. In past centuries people believed the rooster controlled the rise of daylight and thus only crowed at this occasion. While cocks do indeed crow at dawn and therefore were often used as a prototypical alarm clock in past centuries  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".
- Examples: Chantecler in the eponymous play literally believes his crows cause the sun to rise.
- The cute little chick.
- The skittish and shy quail who manages to evade hunters
- Examples: Various cartoons from Warner Brothers and Disney
- The proud peacock.
- The nervous pheasant.
- The graceful crane.
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.
- The overconfident, easily agitated, arrogant duck who isn't as smart as he thinks.
- Examples: Daffy Duck, Plucky Duck, Bill and other duck characters from Sitting Ducks, Donald Duck, Darkwing Duck, Count Duckula, Howard the Duck, Duckman, the duck in Peter And The Wolf (although he is characterized more sympathetically in the Disney version.), Wammes Waggel in Tom Poes, Wade from Garfield & Friends, The Ducktators, ...
- The cute duckling.
- Ducks are especially popular in cartoons and comic strips, because the animals already have a funny way of walking in real life.
- The wild duck that evades hunters successfully and puts them in their place
- A popular story often claims that a duck's quack doesn't echo, but this is an urban legend.
- The child-stealing eagle
- Examples: Roc, Hræsvelgr, Anzû, Rescued from an Eagle's Nest,...
- The proud, noble eagle
- Several heraldic emblems use eagles in their weapon shields or as a national symbol, for instance the French Imperial Eagle and the bald eagle used in American propaganda. See also: Eagle (heraldry).
- Examples: Sam the Eagle, a character in The Muppets who parodies Republican politicians, is a bald eagle. Ernie was the mascot of the British comic book magazine Eagle.
- The evil falcon.
- Compared to ducks and swans geese are usually depicted more negatively. They are often portrayed as being stupid, arrogant, naïve, gullible and/or gossipy.
- Since geese travel to the South during the winter they are often depicted as travelers.
- The proud, constable, noble ibis.
- The thieving magpie.
- 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.
- The wise owl.
- In Greek mythology, Athena, goddess of wisdom, is regularly associated with an owl.
- Other examples: Owl in "Winnie the Pooh", Oehoeboeroe in Paulus the woodgnome, Owl in "The Animals of Farthing Wood", Owl in Guardians of Ga'Hoole, Owl in Bambi, Meneer de Uil in De Fabeltjeskrant, Archimedes in "The Sword in the Stone", Kaepora Geabora (The Legend of Zelda)
- Although owls are often associated with wisdom and intelligence, this is not universal, nor a timeless image. During the Middle Ages owls were seen as stupid and evil helpers of witches. In many paintings of Hieronymus Bosch the bird is seen as a symbol of stupidity and/or evil. The Dutch profanity word "uilskuiken" ("owl chick") is used to insult a stupid person; the Dutch saying "Wat baten kaars en bril als de uil niet zien wil?" ("What use are a candle and glasses if the owl refuses to see?") reminds people of this opposite view of owls. In Asian culture owls are traditionally seen as dumb instead of wise. Portrayal of owls as evil can also be seen in films such as Rock-a-Doodle.
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,...
- Parrots are also popular as pets of pirates, usually the captain, and will sit on its shoulder.
- The pelican who can carry people around in his throat pouch
- In reality this is, of course, impossible, seeing that the beak can't be used for supporting creatures that heavy, left alone carrying them up in air.
- Examples: The pelican in the 1946 Donald Duck cartoon Lighthouse Keeping. Abraham Tuizentfloot travels inside the beak of his pelican in The Adventures of Nero album Het Wonderwolkje (1960) ("The Magic Cloud"). The pelican in The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me,...
- 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.
- In medieval Europe pelicans were portrayed as being particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood by wounding her own breast when no other food was available. This legend maybe a result of the impression the bird gives that it appears to be stabbing itself with its bill. In reality, it often presses this 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, and usurped the image of the lamb and the flag.
- The formal penguin
- In cartoons penguins are sometimes ironically depicted as being so afraid of the cold that they clothes themselves with bonnets, scarves and gloves.
Pigeons and doves
- 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 European turtle dove in particular has become a symbol of devoted love. The mournful singing voice of the bird and the fact that it forms strong pair bonds provided this image.
- Examples: The biblical Song of Songs, William Shakespeare's poem The Phoenix and the Turtle and the song The Twelve Days of Christmas mentions a turtle dove as a love gift. The word "tortelduif" (the original name for a European turtle dove in Dutch) is still used in Dutch to refer to a young romantic 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.
- The joyful, beautiful, elegant songbirds
- Since birds' tweeting sounds melodic in human ears, songbirds have usually been portrayed as creatures bringing happiness, beauty and good tidings.
- Examples: the Bluebird of Happiness, Woodstock from Peanuts, Tweety Pie, Willy the Sparrow, the Beatles song Blackbird, the Bob Marley song Three Little Birds, Olivier Messiaen's Catalogue d'oiseaux,...
- The baby-delivering stork
- The beautiful, gracious, elegant yet fragile swan.
- At the end of the tale of the Ugly Duckling the duck turns out to have been a swan all along.
- Examples: The composition Schwanengesang, the ballet Swan Lake, The Swan Princess, Seven Swans
- Female characters in fiction tend to have the surname "Swan" to imply their beauty. Examples are Elizabeth Swann and Bella Swan.
- The Dying Swan is a very popular ballet dance, based on the idea that a beautiful creature like a swan is also mortal.
- The word "swan song" also refers to the final masterpiece by a creator.
Vultures and buzzards
- The starving vulture or buzzard preying on dying creatures
- Inspired by the fact that vultures and buzzards live off of carcasses and dead bodies.
- Examples: Beaky Buzzard, What's Buzzin' Buzzard, the vultures in Disney's The Jungle Book, the Lone Gunslinger from Ice Age: The Meltdown, the Belgian comic strip Les Voraces ("The Vultures"), in the comic strip Lucky Luke the local mortician has a vulture as a pet,...
- The expression "to go at something like starving vultures"
- The villainous vulture or buzzard:
- Woodpeckers are often portrayed as if they just peck other creatures as a defense, while real woodpeckers only peck wood on trees.
Reptiles and amphibians
Alligators and crocodiles
- 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 lies is that crocodiles are unable to chew and thus 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.
- The villainous crocodile/alligator
- Crocodiles and alligators are often cast as evil characters in stories.
- Examples: The crocodile in Peter Pan (although it only attacks the main villain Captain Hook), Leatherhead (who later becomes the Ninja Turtles' ally), The Enormous Crocodile, Brutus and Nero in The Rescuers, Alligator, Dinocroc, Crocosaurus, How Doth the Little Crocodile,... .
- There are a few examples of kinder, more sympathetic crocodilian characters, including Wally Gator, Schnappi, Louis from The Princess and the Frog, and Vector the Crocodile from Sonic the Hedgehog.
Dinosaurs and pterosaurs
- The fearsome, terrifying Tyrannosaurus and Allosaurus
- Examples: Fantasia, The Valley of Gwangi, Jurassic Park, The Land Before Time, Godzilla (although this character is sometimes heroic)
- In Dinosaur, Carnotaurus fills this role.
- An exception is Rex, the toy T. rex from the Toy Story films, who tries to appear fierce but is actually timid and worrisome. Rex in We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story starts out as a fierce predator, but becomes friendly once he overcomes his instincts. T-Bone from Extreme Dinosaurs is shown to be heroic and a responsible leader.
- Also, the mother T. rex in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a caring and responsible mother, although she becomes fierce when her babies are threatened.
- The vicious, cunning Velociraptor
- The timid, noisy, clumsy, awkward hadrosaur (usually Edmontosaurus and Parasaurolophus)
- The stupid, slow Stegosaurus (This is due to a small brain to body ratio)
- The friendly, gentle sauropod (namely Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus)
- The angry, bad-tempered yet heroic ceratopsid (namely Triceratops and Chasmosaurus)
- The powerful, fearsome Spinosaurus
- Examples: Jurassic Park III, Spike from Jurassic: The Hunted, Monsters Resurrected
- Spinosaurus have been recently portrayed in media as villainous characters, and often a rival to T. rex (though in real life the two species lived millions of years apart).
- Rudy from Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is actually a Baryonyx, but he follows the spinosaur stereotype.
- The awkward, bird-like pterosaur (usually Pteranodon and Dimorphodon)
- Examples: Petrie from The Land Before Time, Elsa from We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story, Bullzeye from Extreme Dinosaurs
- Pterosaurs have also been depicted as menacing or evil. In quite some adventure stories they are depicted in the same way as eagles, grabbing people and animals with their feet and lifting them up in the air. In reality pterosaurs didn't have grasping feet.
Frogs and toads
- Toads are often anthropomorphized as obese people.
- Frogs on the other hand are typically depicted as lean, thin and energetic, due to the fact that they can hop quite high in real life and are quick swimmers.
- While frogs are generally depicted as joyful and sympathetic characters toads tend to be portrayed more as grumpy, serious old sourpusses or downright villains. A prime example of this distinction are Frog and Toad in the stories of Arnold Lobel.
- Since frog legs are a French culinary tradition the word "frog" has become a derogatory term to describe French people. As a result, frogs in English popular culture sometimes have French accents.
- Another stereotype associated with frogs is the urban legend about the boiling frog, incorrectly claiming that if a frog is placed in slowly heated water it will not perceive the danger and be cooked to death. However, some 19th-century experiments suggested that the underlying premise is true, provided the heating is sufficiently gradual.
- Thanks to the fairy tale of The Frog Prince frogs are often portrayed as princes in disguise.
- The evil or untrustworthy snake.
- All throughout history and in almost every country people have feared snakes because they are either venomous or constrictors.
- In Judeo-Christian religious traditions the snake earned its stereotypical image due to its depiction in the Book of Genesis where the serpent deceives Adam and Eve into the first sin. As implied in the text the snake was actually Satan in disguise. Because of their seductive image snakes are often portrayed to be sly hypnotists.
- Examples of evil snakes: Nag, Nagaina and Karait from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Kaa (in Disney's The Jungle Book), Sir Hiss, Cy Sly the python in Ovide and the Gang, Nagini,...
- Exceptions: Adder in The Animals of Farthing Wood and Kaa in The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling's original book); both of them, while disturbing to other characters, prove to be helpful allies.
- Monstrous and often gigantic snakes and serpents are also prevalent in many ancient myths and legends: Bakunawa, the Feathered Serpent, the Midgard Serpent, the Rainbow Serpent, the Hoop snake, the Lernaean Hydra, Nāga, Tsuchinoko, Yamata no Orochi,... Some are half-woman like Echidna, Medusa and Madame White Snake. Others are dragons.
- Vicious snakes are also popular in horror movies.
- Examples: Venom, Snakes on a Plane, Anaconda,...
- The cobra who is hypnotized by a snakecharmer.
- The unfortunate or unlucky lizard.
Turtles and tortoises
- The patient or slow-witted turtle/tortoise.
- A rare example of tortoises who are swift and energetic are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- Tortoises are also frequently depicted as if they can remove their shield like a piece of clothing, which, of course, has no basis in reality.
Fish and sea mammals
- The joyful fish. This stereotype is especially popular with tropical fish who often have bright colors.
- The clever goldfish.
- The forgetful goldfish.
- The vicious, ravenous, merciless orca.
- The powerful, majestic orca.
- The gluttonous piranha.
- These fish are often portrayed as if they guzzle up 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 evil or bloodthirsty shark.
- Examples: Watson and the Shark, The Gulf Stream, Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, The Reef, Sharktopus, Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus...
- Bruce, Chum and Anchor, the three sharks from Finding Nemo, are trying to swear off eating fish in order to avert this stereotype.
- Exceptions: Kenny the Shark, Jabberjaw, Street Sharks, Sherman's Lagoon, Lenny from Shark Tale
- 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 that they jump a lot. In reality they don't tend to this that often. See Cetacean surfacing behaviour.
|This section does not cite any references (sources). (May 2013)|
- 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 fall 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.
- The thieving/bothersome ant.
Crickets and grasshoppers
- Crickets and grasshoppers look very similar and because of this they are often confused with each other.
- The violin playing cricket/grasshopper
- Male crickets are known for the chirping sound they make. In some cultures this sound is seen as a sign of good luck, while in other cultures it is associated with bad luck. Some cartoons depict crickets as violinists because the movements they make to produce their chirping sound resemble someone playing a violin.
- Examples: The grasshopper in the Disney cartoon The Grasshopper and the Ants and in Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach.
- The lazy/carefree grasshopper
- 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 fall having fun, only to have to beg for food from the ant or starve. For this reason, grasshoppers are also sometimes characterized as social parasites (as in the Pixar movie A Bug's Life).
- An exception is the Old-Green-Grasshopper in Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, who is portrayed as a well-mannered gentleman and musician. Similarly, the Humbug from The Phantom Tollbooth.
- gentle crustacean
- 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". 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.
- Examples: The ladybirds in the songs Ladybird, Ladybird and "Mala Biedroneczka" are described as a mother with children. The ladybug in James and the Giant Peach is a motherly character. Cococinel in the 1990s animated series of the same name is female and Ferda Mravenec ("Ferda the ant")'s partner is also a ladybug.
- The patient mantis
- Because mantises are able to wait for hours for food to approach them.
- The sinister, menacing and/or evil mantis
- The evil spider
- Spiders often scare people due to their strange appearance. Arachnophobia is still the most common phobia. Although all spiders are venomous, only a small number of them are dangerous for humans. In horror stories the giant spider is a popular monster, for instance Shelob, Tarantula, Arachne, The Giant Spider Invasion, Eight Legged Freaks,...
- Rare examples of a positively depicted spider include Anansi, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Charlotte A. Cavatica from Charlotte's Web and Miss Spider from James and the Giant Peach.
- The diligent, persistent spider
- As seen by Robert the Bruce, according to legend
- The man-eating monstrous gigantic octopus who attacks and destroys ships
- Octopuses are also often portrayed as dangerous sea creatures.
- Many propaganda posters often portray persons or ideologies as an octopus sitting on a globe spreading its tentacles to take over the entire world
- In Japanese culture octopuses are also associated with tentacle rape.
- The destructive termite
- Because of the termite's reputation of eating wood and wrecking homes and buildings, which is greatly exaggerated in cartoons.
- The wanton and vicious wasp
- Wasps are often portrayed as deliberate stingers of humans.
- Annelids, particularly Earthworms (and by conflation maggots, which few laypersons recognize as being kin to insects rather than to actual worms), are often regarded as "the lowest of the low", and popular culture references to them will usually reflect this.
- Example: Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings.
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
- The cute kitten
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Hare: small and vulnerable but compensates by being crafty, outwitting stronger rivals.
- 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.
- Cat (domestic or wild): cunning and hypocritical, with a calm appearance hiding murderous intentions.
- Tiger: Symbol of might and courage; celebrated as national animal of India.
- Dog: considered unclean and impure, reviled— not a pet but a pest; considered to lack self-respect.
- Mongoose: loyal and useful pet, best known for its natural enmity toward snakes. See The Brahmin and the Mongoose.
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