Stereotypes of animals

When anthropomorphising a (non-human) 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 the true origins are forgotten. Some are popularised or solidified by a single particularly notable appearance in media, for example Disney's 1942 film Bambi which portrayed 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 the exact opposite direction (e.g. a fastidious pig or a cowardly lion).

Many modern stereotypes of animals have a long tradition dating back to Aesop's Fables, which drew upon sources that included 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 various 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.|30px|30px|Flavius Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana| 5.14.


It is important to note that many animal stereotypes reflect anthropomorphic notions which are unfair to impose upon actual animals in nature. Thus, while a shark is instinctively feeding in the way its nature intends, in folklore it tends to be classified as "cruel", a word which implies a conscious and immoral choice to cause unnecessary pain. Yet conscience and morality are metaphysical attributes which are imposed by humans and do not, in fact, exist as such within the shark's world. Likewise, some stereotypes are based on mistaken or grossly oversimplified impressions, e.g. spotted hyenas are stereotypically portrayed as cowardly scavengers, but in reality they are efficient pack hunters with a complex social structure who care for their young.

Despite these considerations, the use of such animal stereotypes is generally much less problematic than it is for human stereotypes (to which some of the same issues apply), for obvious reasons.

Common Western animal stereotypes

Common Eastern animal stereotypes

  • 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. Squaresoft'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
  • 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.


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