Even Lions Are Defying Gender Stereotypes in 2015

Mmamoriri, a lioness in Botswana, Africa is defying gender norms by growing a mane and roaring like a male as an apparent survival strategy. This makes her a "gender fluid" lioness on the plains of the Okavango Delta, and experts say there are several others like Mmamoriri in her area.

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For the documentary World’s Sneakiest Animals, naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham filmed Mmamoriri and explained the evolutionary benefits of her male appearance. She and the other female lionesses in the area that look stereotypically male have boosted their chances of protecting their young and themselves from invading prides.

"Not only does Mmamoriri look like a male, she acts like a male," Packham said. "Even her roar is deeper and more masculine."

Packham added that there are thought to be five maned lionesses in the Okavango and that they probably all have the same genetic mutation, which has created an imbalance of hormones. Scientists suspect that because Mmamorir mimics a male, rivals may think that there are more males in her pride than there really are, according to Packham.

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“If they can increase their territory because of this, then it would really improve her pride’s survival chances,” Packham said. “This mutation could even be the start of a new and very devious lion strategy.”

Mmamoriri and her fellow maned lionesses aren't the only animals to challenge gender appearances. Female spotted hyenas are known for being more socially dominant, aggressive, and larger than males, and the female spotted hyena is also known for having such a large clitoris that some call it a pseudo penis, which is capable of erection. This may enable female spotted hyenas to better protect themselves from other females. Because female spotted hyenas also urinate through the same channel, it's also possible that she can change her mind about giving birth to offspring after mating with a male.

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"She always has the option of flushing the whole system," Kay Holekamp, a spotted hyena expert at Michigan State University, told the BBC last year.

Go to 42:12 to watch the World's Sneakiest Animals segment on Mmamoriri below: