All Hail the Queen: The Badass Women of the Animal Kingdom

They call them the ‘gentler sex’, but these powerful ladies from the animal world are anything but gentle. Strong and resilient, the matriarchs in this list are empresses; deadly and doting rolled-into-one. If you thought the men were accomplished, you won’t believe the prowess of the women. It’s time to meet the mistresses of the game.

The males of any species have always been considered more powerful, more creative, more strategic and more ruthless. But a look at these animals and you’ll wonder at the powerhouses that are females. You will admire them for their courage, their ingenuity and their desire to turn the odds in their favor.

This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the power, the beauty and the talent of the ladies of the animal world.

Meet the doyennes of the animal kingdom

  • Praying mantis

They say love hurts and love with a praying mantis is a definite stinger. Just ask a male praying mantis and he’ll tell you all about it.

Volatile in the extreme, the female praying mantis needs a satiating meal to willingly get into the bridal chamber; and who does she ask for as the sacrifice, but her lover.  During mating, the female praying mantis cuts off the head of the male and eats it; and saves the body for nourishment when laying the eggs.

Dangerous creatures to begin with female praying mantis are the original femme fatales of the animal world.

Praying mantis

  • Spotted hyena

‘Ballsy woman’, that’s what they call a girl who has the courage to counter the men. But when it comes to the spotted hyena, we may need to take this address a bit literally.

Female hyenas are the leaders of their canine packs, resembling their male counterparts in their mannerisms, behavior and also (wait-for-it) anatomy. That’s right, anatomically speaking, female hyenas possess genitalia that resembles the male sexual organs.

Called ‘pseudo-penises’, these organs are enlarged clitoris, that resembles the male reproductive organs. The pseudo-penises are a result of high concentration of androgen in the body, which results in the development of masculine characteristics; most notably the female’s vicious temper and mean bite.

Hyena

  • Whiptail lizard

Who thinks women need men to procreate? Well, the whiptail lizards of South America certainly don’t. These lizards are truly the ‘Amazonians’ of the vertebrate world and they’re skilled in ‘virgin births’.

The possession of an extra pair of chromosomes (compared to their lizard counterparts) allows the all-female gang of whiptail lizards to lay eggs that don’t need sperm to fertilize. These self-fertilized eggs hatch into more females, who possess the same genetic make-up as their mothers.

This type of asexual reproduction is impressive even in invertebrates (where this is common), but for vertebrates like the whiptail lizard, this is positively biblical.

Whiptail lizard

  • Bonobos

When Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata, he may have derived inspiration from the Bonobo. If there is one thing the pygmy chimpanzees can teach us, is that More Sex = Less Conflict. Mistresses in the art of seduction, the female bonobos use sex as a tool for maintaining peace in the troop.

But when this doesn’t work, they rely on their strong sisterhood. If a male harasses, victimizes or hurts one female, the entire band of girls gang up on him and strike back. They even go as far as refusing sex for an entire lot of eligible bachelors; finally forcing the males to intervene and punish the bad-mannered member.

When things simmer down and the men behave, the females ‘swing’ into action and treat them to some sweet loving.

Bonobo

  • Elephants

When it comes to females who break the glass ceiling, nothing beats the elephants. Their organizational ability and leadership skills will put an A-list CEO to shame. If there’s something we can learn from them it’s – girl power and perseverance.

The matronly matriarchs of the animal world, female elephants lead groups of up to 100 across the vast savannah in search of food and water, all the while managing a bunch of boisterous whippersnappers. Most of the matriarchs in the herd are over 50 years old (quite old in elephant years) and they take an active interest in collectively raising the calves.

The best way to describe a herd of female elephants is as a ‘self-reliant society’. There are no males allowed in this group.

Elephant herd

  • Orcas

All of the greatest lineages in history have one thing in common – they’ve all been led by powerful and enterprising women. The same is true with the killer whales.

Orcas form bonds for life and when a daughter is born, she stays with her mother until the very end. Often, daughters and mothers stay together even after the daughter has daughters of her own. These ladies form large pods called ‘matrilines’, which include hundreds of female killer whales.

The mothers teach their daughters to hunt, to raise young and to even toy with the emotions of the males. If there’s ever an orphaned baby or an adolescent she-calf, you can rest assured she won’t be alone for long. Protective in the extreme, a mother orca will never let anyone hurt a young female.

Killer whale

  • Honeybees

What can you say about a colony that spends its life serving the Queen? A completely matriarchal society, life in a honeybee colony revolves around their female sovereign.

Right from the time they are born, all drones (synonyms – good-for-nothing and hanger-on ;)) are trained to serve the queen. The females in the colony take center stage and spend their lives selecting a single queen bee, raising her on royal jelly and taking care of her every need.

If the queen dies, don’t worry. Chances are, the females have already identified an heir, who is also a woman; and are in the process of transforming her from a pauper to a princess.

Honeybee

There are many more females who deserve a mention on this list, but we’ll leave them for next time. Till then, long live the Queen!

-NISHA PRAKASH

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