17 photos of animals that prove there's nothing natural about traditional gender roles.

Traditional gender roles are "natural," goes the common refrain.

Heterosexuality? That's natural too, apparently. Staying one gender your whole life? Definitely natural.

There's only one problem: Nature (and science) beg to disagree.


In reality, male and female animals set up their relationships thousands of different ways in the wild. In many species, males are the primary caretakers of the next generation while females ignore their offspring and mate promiscuously. Even the existence of "male" and "female" as distinct categories is often not so clear in certain species.

Some animals have the ability to change sex to respond to various outside pressures and conditions.

A few can even mate with themselves.

Here are 17 animals that demonstrate the greatness of nature and its stubborn unwillingness to conform to human expectations for the way things "should be."

1. Jacanas

"Mom went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back." Photo by su neko/Flickr.

Ask any tropical bird out there, and they'll tell you that male jacanas are pretty much the best dads of the bunch. Not only do male jacanas stick around the nest to incubate the eggs and raise their offspring, they even carry them under-wing when they fly.

Meanwhile, female jacanas are ... not exactly super nurturing. After gathering up a harem of nearly half a dozen males and laying her eggs, the female jacana splits in order to fly around, murder the young of rival females, and mate with their former partners.

This is considered charming.

2. Clown fish

Clown fish were invented by Disney/Pixar in 2003. Photo by Samuel Chow/Flickr.

Like many species of reef fish, clown fish can, and frequently do, change sex. Unlike most species of reef fish however, all clown fish are born male and are led (in familial groups) by a dominant female.

When she dies, the next-biggest male simply ... becomes female and takes charge of the group.

What you just heard was the sound of a billion other species slapping themselves on the forehead at the same time, wondering why they didn't think of that, realizing it's now too late and that now they'd just be, like, hopping on the trend.

3. African buffalo

Anyone but Cruuuuuuuuuuuuuuz. Photo by Soerfm/Wikimedia Commons.

Not only are female buffalos are responsible for coordinating the movements of the entire herd — they do it democratically. When it's time to find a new grazing spot, each female takes a turn standing up and gazing in the direction they want to travel, and when they're done, the whole group moves that way.

While status hierarchies exist within herds, the elections are equitable — one cow, one vote.

Change You Can Moo-Lieve in. Make the Grasslands Great Again.

4. Bees

"Aaaaaaagh! Aaaaaagh! Aaaaaagh!" — Nicholas Cage. Photo by Don Hankins/Flickr.

Bees famously take the matriarchy to the extreme. A single queen bee oversees thousands of smaller female workers and male drones.

While most bees live, at most, a few weeks, the queen typically survives several years before the hive goes looking for a new queen to start the cycle over again. All to advance the species-wide goal of refusing to fly out of your car even though all four windows are down.

5. Komodo dragons

Photo by Adhi Rachdian/Wikimedia Commons.

Female komodo dragons can lay viable eggs that produce offspring without a male partner, which pretty much explains why komodo dragon Tinder never truly caught on.

6. Praying mantises

Not as romantic as it looks. Photo by Oliver Koemmerling/Wikimedia Commons.

Mantis males are often smaller than mantis females, a discrepancy that leaves many males feeling insecure, as it enables females to frequently — though not always — eat their heads during sex.

7. Common reed frogs

Malcolm was right. Photo by ChriKo/Wikimedia Commons.

These tiny, resilient amphibians can change sex from female to male, allowing them to successfully reproduce if they suddenly find themselves surrounded by frogs of the same sex.

This ability makes them one of the most successful species on Earth at inspiring anxious Sam Neil monologues.

8. South American marmosets

"Hey, pa? You ... you wanna ... play catch?" Photo by Day Donaldson/Flickr.

Female marmosets tend not to be terribly interested in their babies. A few weeks after giving birth, they're mostly out of their kids' lives forever.

Marmoset dads, on the other hand, are excellent caretakers, feeding, grooming, and transporting their young as well as coaching Marmoset Little League and always batting their kid cleanup.

9. Spotted hyenas

Photo by Ruben Undheim/Flickr.

Not only are female hyenas stronger and more aggressive than males, male and female hyena genitals are nearly identical in appearance. They're so similar that it's extremely difficult to tell the difference with the naked eye, which ultimately doomed the '70s game show "What Sex is That Hyena?" to cancellation after just half a season.

10. Seahorses

"OK, so. I need a really big favor." Photo by John Dalton/Flickr.

While males of numerous species nurture their offspring, the male seahorse takes things several steps further. During the mating process, he receives eggs from the female and not only fertilizes them, but carries the offspring until they hatch.

A recent poll of male seahorses found that an overwhelming majority experience a secret surge of satisfaction when their partners get kidney stones.

11. Cuttlefish

Blumph. Photo by David Sim/Wikimedia Commons.

Unlike middle school boys across America, male cuttlefish don't have a lot of hang-ups about appearing feminine to their peers. Masters of camouflage, these future delicious fried antipasto will often alter their coloration in order to pass for female around rival males.

If an actual female is around, they'll leave the other half of their body as is, appearing half male and half female.

12. Topi antelopes

Oh hey. Photo by Whit Welles/Wikimedia Commons.

Female topi antelopes are not only sexually promiscuous, but when it's time to mate, they almost always make the first move. In some cases, female topis pester male antelopes for sex so relentlessly that the male has to physically fight them off. (Cue dozens of Facebook commenters yelling at male antelopes for complaining about something that's "obviously awesome" and insisting they're lucky and should "just be grateful for the attention.")

13. Laysan albatrosses

"Al." "Al." Photo by Patte David/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Public Domain Images.

Some female albatrosses mate in female-female pairs, often for life.

(Side note: All male albatrosses are named Al Batross. Every single one of them. That's a proven fact).

14. Banana slugs

"When I think about you..." Photo by Ralph Arvesen/Flickr.

A hermaphroditic species, banana slugs have both male and female sex organs and occasionally mate with themselves.

Though banana slugs do seem to prefer mating with other slugs, doing so typically ends with one slug chewing the other's penis off, because nature is a cavalcade of endless, random horror.

15. Orcas

"You have to hit the home button twice, grandma." Photo by Amit Patel/Flickr.

Killer whales live in matriarchal pods, and female whales are more likely to take charge of the group than their male peers.

The oldest female whales are often the go-to source for information about where to find food, and in exchange for keeping the whole family alive, the younger whales patiently show them time and again how to use the iPad.

16. Emperor penguins

"Where is that voice coming from?" Photo by Lin Padgham/Flickr.

Anyone who's seen "March of the Penguins" knows that male emperor penguins guard their eggs tightly, perilously balancing them on their feet while their female companions go off to do traditional woman stuff like trekking across the Antarctic tundra, diving for food in the freezing cold ocean, and pleading with Morgan Freeman to shut the hell up so they can focus on not being eaten by seals for like five goddamn seconds.

17. Bonobos

"Mmmmmm. Yeah. Mmmmm. All right. Yeah." — Bonobos, all the time. Photo by LaggedOnUser/Flickr.

The female-led bonobos have invented perhaps the most ingenious way of preventing intra-species violence in the entire animal kingdom. Basically, everyone just has sex with everyone else — males with females, females with females, males with males, in pretty much every kind of way imaginable.

The near-constant hetero-homo-orgiastic delight that results pretty much prevents anyone from being mad at anyone ever and unites the species around the common goal of being the best apes ever invented.

We share about 99% of our DNA with bonobos.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."