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Forget everything you thought you knew about female animals

Female lions are one of many species we've gotten all wrong, according to Cooke.
Female lions are one of many species we've gotten all wrong, according to Cooke.

Submissive. Chaste. Monogamous.

That’s how evolutionary biologists have classified female animals for centuries — dating back to Darwin and Aristotle.

Zoologist Lucy Cooke says they’ve got it all wrong.

From her new book “Bitch: On the Female of the Species”:

A sexist mythology has been baked into biology, and it distorts the way we perceive female animals. In the natural world female form and role varies wildly to encompass a fascinating spectrum of anatomies and behaviors. Yes, the doting mother is among them, but so is the jacana bird that abandons her eggs and leaves them to a harem of cuckolded males to raise. Females can be faithful, but only 7 percent of species are sexually monogamous, which leaves a lot of philandering females seeking sex with multiple partners. Not all animal societies are dominated by males by any means; alpha females have evolved across a variety of classes and their authority ranges from benevolent (bonobos) to brutal (bees). Females can compete with each other as viciously as males: topi antelope engage in fierce battles with huge horns for access to the best males, and meerkat matriarchs are the most murderous mammals on the planet, killing their competitors’ babies and suppressing their reproduction.

Cooke joins us for some zoology myth-busting.

Copyright 2022 WAMU 88.5

Kathryn Fink