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8 supercool animals who prove gender fluidity isn’t just a human experience

8 supercool animals who prove gender fluidity isn’t just a human experience

'Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...'

The animal kingdom is anything but cisnormative.

For instance, did you know the female spotted hyena boasts an enormous clitoris that, when erect, can be as large as a male’s penis?

No, neither did we. But from hyenas, horses and butterflies to the self-regenerating worm, there are thousands of examples of blurred gender lines among creatures great and small.

Below, we list just eight of them. Prepare to be amazed…and surprised!

1 Seahorses

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Along with their cousin the pipefish, seahorses are one of the only known species where the male becomes pregnant: after fertilizing and incubating the female’s eggs in his pouch, he gives birth, experiencing muscular contractions akin to labor. Seahorses are an endangered species.

2 Ruffs

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Last year, scientists discovered that a specific breed of sandpiper, the ruff, has four different sexes; a female and three types of male, including a type with spectacular plumage, a type without, and a type that looks like a female. So, mating’s obviously a bit complicated. But, we hope, fun. Photo: Flickr/Jo Garbutt

3 Spotted hyenas

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Not only are female spotted hyenas stronger and more aggressive than males, but their huge external ‘pseudopenis’ clitoris can be as big as a male’s penis – making girls and boys very difficult to tell apart. Females also urinate, mate and give birth through the clitoris; other animals known to have pseudopenises include lemurs and monkeys.

4 Komodo dragons

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The world’s heaviest lizard hails from Indonesia and is an endangered species, due to poaching and human interference; hopefully the fact that a few females have been known to reproduce without the help of a male will help their survival. Other so-called ‘virgin births’ – or parthenogenesis – have been observed among among birds, snakes and…

5 Sharks

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From the blacktip to the bamboo, the phenomenon is somewhat common in sharks. Earlier this month, scientists were shocked when virgin births occurred among two generations of captive female bamboos in Munich – correcting the assumption that offspring born via parthenogenesis is always infertile. Photo: Flickr/Naparazzi.

6 Lions

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Last year, the BBC filmed a documentary about Mmamoriri – a lioness with a rugged mane and deep roar akin to a male. Her characteristics are believed to be an evolutionary adaptation, helping her fool invading prides into thinking she is male – and thus keeping her safe. Experts have identified five other similar lionesses in the area.

7 Argus reed frog

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This colorful species of frog from West Africa can spontaneously change sex for breeding purposes. In the original Jurassic Park book and film, their DNA was used to plug the genetic gaps in the all-female dinosaurs, thus allowing them to reproduce. Just don’t blame them for the dodgy sequels (Jurassic World excluded).

8 Clownfish

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Just when you thought Finding Nemo couldn’t get any cooler, right? Breeding females top the social hierarchy on planet clownfish; when she dies, her dominant male counterpart will transition and replace her. And believe it or not, all clownfish are born male: when two males of age encounter each other, one switches sex so the pair can reproduce.