After images of five Botswana lionesses with manes were released earlier this week, it got us thinking.
What other animals in the animals kingdom have gender-bending traits, or engage in sexual mimicry as it’s called in biology?
Below are seven such animals. Some of them you may already know about, but some of them are likely to surprise you.
1. Marsh harrier
While the majority of male marsh harriers are covered in a grey down of feather and have yellow eyes, 40 per cent of these males resemble their female counterparts. Females have brown feathers, white eyes, and are much larger than male birds.
These gender-bending males adopt a female-like down, with the change occurring in the second year of their life. Their eyes and small build stay the same, however.
Scientists believe these males assume a female appearance to prevent them from being attacked by other males.
2. Giant Australian cuttlefish
Male cuttlefish outnumber females 11 to 1. So, if you’re a male cuttlefish, your competition to find a mate is stiff. But there's one advantageous tool at your disposal - like other cephalopods (such as squids and octopi), cuttlefish can camouflage.
That’s why some smaller males within the species will camouflage into the muted brown tones of their female counterparts while swimming through male-dominated areas. Their camouflage protects them from being attacked by other males, while giving them easier access to a female cuttlefish.
3. Red and olive colobus monkey
When a male colobus monkey comes of age, they are shooed away from their pod to seek other single males with whom to form a coalition. But olive and red colobus use a peculiar evolutionary trait to hold off that rude departure.
Just as they reach puberty, the area around their anus swells, mimicking that of a female colobus in heat. Though this doesn’t confuse other males within their own and related species, it does stop them from being kicked out of their pod.
This swelling stops for the olive colobus once they reach adulthood, while the red colobus retain this feature for life.
4. Spotted hyena
Both female and male hyenas have testes and a penis. And for both sexes, the penis goes erect around female hyena. For males, the erection is a function of arousal; for females, it’s due to familiarity and safety.
In actual fact, the female ‘penis’ is actually an elongated clitoris, so large that in biology it is referred to as a pseudo-penis. Female hyenas urinate, mate, and even give birth through the appendage. When it comes to having intercourse, females roll up their clitoris to give permitted males access to their vagina, which is internal.
Even though the female penis isn’t a true sex organ, it’s longer than the male one.
Clownfish live within a strict hierarchy, where each school is headed by a female and seconded by a submissive male with whom she mates. Other fish in the school are all male, which doesn’t pose too much of a threat since clownfish are born hermaphrodites, though eventually become all male.
When the dominant female dies, her mate takes her place and changes his sex to female.
The hierarchy is also maintained within the school through body mass. The female is the largest of the school, followed by her second and so on. Once the second takes the deceased female’s role, he expands to her size. The other fish in the school also grow according to their new hierarchal positions.
6. Red-sided garter snake
Some male garter snakes emit female pheromones to bait other male garter snakes away from a nearby female. In the presence of a single female, several males will swarm and envelop the female until one male succeeds in copulation. To increase their own odds at mating with the female, some garter snakes will give off female pheromones, allow a swarm of fooled males to come towards him, and then sneak away to mate with the available female.
Earlier this week, New Scientist reported five lionesses at the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana had grown manes and adopted male-like behaviours. One has even been observed to roar and mount other females, just as a male lion would.
It's difficult to determine what exactly would cause these lionesses to change to a masculine appearance, but researchers think it's due to increased levels of testosterone, possibly due to a genetic quirk.