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
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
- The bloodthirsty or evil bat
- The loyal dog
- The dim-witted dog
- The vicious guard dog
- The cruel or evil wolf
- Through the latter half of the 20th century, the wolf was increasingly portrayed in the opposite manner, as an especially dignified and capable wild form of dog and symbol of Nature. (eg. the Kevin Costner film, Dances with Wolves)
- The solitary or renegade wolf
- The evil / cruel Tyrannosaurus
- The stubborn ass
- The horny or virile donkey/stallion/bull
- The wily, cruel or intelligent fox
- The stupid and or easily frightened Chicken
- The cock/rooster who has delusions of grandeur or is vain.
- The gossipy goose
- The cool cat
- The lazy cat
- The evil/villianous cat
- Many cartoons portray cats as mischievous, crafty and antagonistic.
- The cute kitten
- The Garfield character Nermal is an ironic representation of this stereotype.
- The proud, brave, or noble 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", (however Lions do not live in jungles) and is frequently portrayed as the literal ruler of the other animals in a given territory (eg. Disney's 1994 movie, "The Lion King").
- The mischievous monkey.
- The slow-witted moose.
- The nervous 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
- The smelly skunk
- Chuck Jones' Pepé Le Pew is one of the best-known animated skunks and propagates the idea that the animals emit their scent continuously.
- The lazy sloth
- The unforgetting elephant
- From the folk-saying "An elephant never forgets."
- Another popular misconception of elephants is that they fear mice, possibly thanks to cartoon depictions.
- The quiet mouse
- Mice are frequently portrayed in animation as shy and physically-frail, often bookish, nerdy and/or glasses-wearing.
- The formal penguin
- The curious / playful otter
- From anyone who has ever watched one at an aquarium.
- The horny rabbit - Following naturally from the phrase "(to) breed like rabbits".
- The patient turtle / tortoise (No distinctions are generally made between the two.)
- The hyperactive / fast-running rabbit / hare (Again, generally not distinguished from each other.)
- The fast-running cheetah is another animal noted for its speed
- The diligent ant and the lazy / carefree grasshopper
- Both of these stem mainly from another fable The Ant and the Grasshopper in which the former works hard to prepare for the winter while the latter wastes the summer and fall having fun, only to have to beg 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).
- The destructive Termite
- Because of the termite's reputation of eating wood and wrecking homes and buildings.
- The comical / always-laughing hyena
- From the uncanny resemblance its call bears to a human laugh.
- Example the Hyenas from Lion King
- The wanton and vicious wasp
- Wasps are often portrayed as deliberate stingers of humans.
- The dopey (or "bumbling") bumblebee
- The workaholic bumblebee
- The evil snake
- The greedy and/or filthy pig
- Both 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 "Happy as a pig in shit").
- The stereotype may also derive in part from Judeo-Islamic cultures, whose concepts of kosher/halal teach that pigs are "unclean" for various reasons.
- Pigs are also portrayed as straight men or sidekicks (for example porky pig (Looney tunes) and Orson (U.S.Acres))
- The criminal raccoon
- From the bandit-like black "mask" over its eyes. Also known for being notorious scavengers.
- The hyperactive squirrel
- From their extreme speed.
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.