In some works, female animals, aliens, monsters and fantastical/mythical creatures tend to have lighter fur, feathers, scales, or skin on their bodies than male animals, aliens, monsters, and fantastical/mythical creatures.
This trope may have its roots in the fact that, on average, human women of a given ancestry have a lighter skin tone than men of the same ancestry and that there is a sexual preference for paleness in women and darkness in men in many cultures throughout the world. To the limited extent that this trope is expected of real-life humans, it's actually an evolutionary adaptation, because darker skin minimizes the risk of skin cancer, but women require large amounts of vitamin D during pregnancy to avoid birth defects, so the risk of skin cancer is outweighed by this need. Also, men tended to work outside more often than women and tan.
This is also true of many other species, especially avians. Males tend to have darker, flashier colors, while females are more drab—peacocks are an especially dramatic example. Some species invert this, notably raptors, where the females are larger, darker, and have more ostentatious markings.
This trope is Older Than Dirt going way, way back in art history. Often the way to discern gender in ancient paintings was by the skin tone. Also, in a lot of anime and manga, the skin color difference between the sexes will be exaggerated.
To invert this, some will go further in the opposite direction than played-straight examples go in the original, such as giving a pale guy a dark-skinned girlfriend, etc...
Obviously a case of Color-Coded for Your Convenience and Secondary Sexual Characteristics, serving an identification function similar to Tertiary Sexual Characteristics. Often overlaps with Messy Male, Fancy Female. The human equivalent is Light Girl, Dark Boy. Not to be confused with Light Feminine and Dark Feminine.
Animal (Real or Fictional Species) Examples
- Female animals in the Ice Age movies tend to have lighter colored fur than the male animals. Inverted with Scrat and Scratte, however, as he is light grey whereas she is dark red.
- The wolves and elephants in The Jungle Book (1967).
- Faline the female fawn has lighter colored fur than Bambi and Ronno, the two male fawns.
- The Lion King:
- Nearly all the lionesses are lighter compared to the the male lions. Inverted with Sarabi, who is darker than Mufasa.
- Even Timon's mom from The Lion King 1½ is a peach-y tan color compared to the male meerkat shades of tawny.
- Aleu from Balto II: Wolf Quest has lighter fur than her father Balto; both are wolf/dog hybrids.
- The female mouse, Bianca, from The Rescuers is lighter than the male mouse, Bernard. In The Rescuers Down Under, Marahute the mother eagle's feather color is a softer golden brown than the feather belonging to the fallen father (possibly justified, since the male had been dead for quite a while, and the feathers might have become dirtier). The same goes for some of the reptiles in both movies, lighter green girls darker green or brown green guys.
- Rio does it with Blu (the male Spix's Macaw) and Jewel (the female Spix's Macaw). This seems to be subverted in the sequel, however. Jewel's father is revealed to have the same pale coloring as her, so it might just be hereditary.
- The Land Before Time has several species of dinosaurs with lighter females. The triceratops do it best, Cera is cream orange while her dad is charcoal. This may actually be due to age instead of gender, since there is a blink and you'll miss a shot of Cera's mother, whose coloring is identical to her dad's.
- The animals in the older The Chronicles of Narnia cartoon had lighter girls than males. Beavers are one example of this.
- Inverted with the two hawks that appear near the end of the song "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas where the male hawk is colored light brown, while the female is colored dark gray.
- Vixey from The Fox and the Hound for some reason actually does not have "stockings/points" on her feet like Tod, a male fox. Vixey is a light colored, peachy orange whereas Tod is a dark shade of orange.
- Coral (Marlin's late wife and Nemo's would-been mother) has lighter orange scales than that of Marlin, as seen at the very beginning of Finding Nemo.
- The female moose from Brother Bear 2, Anda and Kata, are a much lighter shade of brown than those of Rutt and Tuke, a pair of male moose. Also, at the end of the film, Nita (Kenai's girlfriend), is actually given lighter-colored fur after being turned into a bear herself so that she can be with Kenai (whom by the end of the first film, had actually decided to stay a bear) forever.
- The gorillas in Tarzan: Kerchak is black, Kala is light brown, and Terk (who is female) is bluish-grey.
- In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana and Naveen play this trope straight in their frog forms, even though they invert it in human forms (but that's because they are of different race).
- Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole follows this trope at the expense of accuracy by having a whiter-than normal female snowy owl. It also makes the females owls smaller than the males, when in real life the females are bigger.
- Lulubelle the female bear from the "Bongo" segment of Fun and Fancy Free is lighter than both the antagonist male bear, Lumpjaw, and the titular male bear of the segment.
- In Pocahontas, "Just Around the Riverbend" depicts a dark brown male otter and a lighter brown female otter.
- Inverted by the title felines in Black Cat, White Cat. As we learn when we see them "coupling" near the end of the film, the black cat is female, the white cat is male.
- A 1959 picture book titled "The Rabbits' Wedding" had a black male rabbit getting married to a white female rabbit. Because of this, some "concerned citizens" in Alabama thought the book was an allegorical promotion of interracial marriage, causing a censorship controversy.
- Pete The Cat: Pete (a male black cat) and Callie (a female white cat).
- Warrior Cats:
- Firestar is a dark orange ginger cat while his mate Sandstorm is a pale ginger. And the differences don't end only in fur color but eye color too; Firestar has darker green eyes while Sandstorm has lighter ones.
- Graystripe is a dark grey while Silverstream is silver and white. His second mate, Millie, is a very light shade of gray.
- Survivor Dogs:
- Moon and Mickey are both (unrelated) Border Collies within the same pack. Moon is predominantly white, while Mickey is predominantly black.
- Storm and her brother Fang are both brown Dobermans, but Fang is a dark brown while Storm is chocolate.
- Inverted and justified in the Gandalara Cycle with the sha'um. The tomswho sometimes venture out into the desert to become Bond Creaturesare shades of pale gray and tan; their sisterswho until late in the series have never left their secluded and far cooler valleyare brindled and darker.
- Child of the Wolves: The alphas of the wolf pack are the all-white Snowdrift and her all-black mate Ebony.
- In Kingsley's Adventure, the rabbit queen is skin tone while the rabbit king and the male guards are brown.
- In the Crash Bandicoot series, there is Coco, who is peachy whereas Crash is orange and Crunch is brown. The other girl bandicoots are on the lighter side too.
- Star Fox Adventures has lighter female dinosaurs and pterosaurs, most notably the Cloud Runners (some sort of pteranodon). Snowhorns are some sort of mammoth in which the females are lighter than the males. Krystal is lighter (blue) too but that changes in Star Fox: Assault.
- Sonic the Hedgehog characters tend to fall under this. The male characters tend to be darker or bolder colors such as blue, red, and black, whilst female characters tend to be lighter pastel colors such as pink, lilac, or cream. However, this is sometimes inverted; as there are also males with colors such as yellow, white, and light grey; and females with colors such as orange-brown and (dark) violet.
- Inverted by the Pokémon Hippopotas and its evolved form Hippowdon. In the former's case, the darkest and lightest of its colors are inverted between the two genders, but the female is the one where the darker color takes the prominent part. After evolving, its body is just one color rather than the camouflage pattern it had before evolving: a sandy brown for the males and a dark gray for the females.
- Red Dead Redemption II: Inverted by the white tailed deer as the does have darker and/or fuller pelage and true bucks have lighter, brighter, more contrasted orange and white fur or pale fur.
- Alda from Shadow Of The Light is orange-and-white canine-like animal while her mate Dreggar is black.
- In Yokoka's Quest, Yokoka's cat form has white fur with pink stripes, and yellow eyes, while her twin brother Mao has brown fur with darker stripes, and red eyes. Their humanoid forms have a similar colour scheme. A Q&A strip explains the colour differences as Yokoka having a type of albinism.
- The general rule of thumb in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is that males will usually have darker or more subdued in coat and mane colors and combinations (such as Night Light, Time Turner, or Thunderlane), while females will be brighter or have more contrasting combinations (Daisy, Rainbow Dash, or Applebloom). There are a few inversions (yellow Braeburn to orange Applejack, white Shining Armor to pink Princess Cadance, bright yellow Cheese Sandwich to Pinkie Pie, yellow Carrot Cake to blue Cup Cake), but this appears to be more the norm.
- In Redwall the animated series, males are brown, dark red or shades of silver while females are peach-tan.
- In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (the stop animation one), Claurice the doe has lighter fur than Rudolph the male reindeer.
- Inverted with Mac and Tosh's (the Goofy Gophers from Looney Tunes) aunt from The Looney Tunes Show; her base fur color is brown, while their base fur color is tan.
- Clarice the female chipmunk has lighter colored fur than Chip 'n Dale the two male chipmunks.
- Inverted in The Amazing World of Gumball. Anais Watterson the female bunny is a darker shade of pink than her father Richard.
- Inverted in The Flintstones. Fred's adopted pet lion is yellow with an orange mane, while his Love Interest is a tan lioness with pink hair.
- Animaniacs: Inverted with the sparrows in the episode, "West Side Pigeons." The female sparrows, including Carloota, have darker brown feathers than the male sparrows.
- Averted in Taz-Mania where Taz's dad and brother have light golden fur while his mom and sister have darker reddish-brown fur, although Taz himself is darker than all the rest of the family.
- Appears in Alvin and the Chipmunks with the chipmunk cast. Alvin, Simon, Theodore, Uncle Harry, and the nameless wild chipmunk are all noticeably a few shades darker than Brittany, Jeanette, Eleanor, and Benny.
- Horses have subtle variation of this. Stallions tend to have a bit more intense and deeper colors than mares. If a stallion is gelded, his coat eventually turns a little duller in color.
- The most macho lions have the darkest manes.
- Often, female mammals will appear lighter because they produce less sebum (skin oil) than males, which means their coats stay cleaner.
- Common in butterflies. The female is either similar but less showy (either browner or grayer), or lighter all over.
- Inverted with snowy owls as only males get whiter with each molt and females stay much darker and much more speckled.
- The females of most birds will often tend to have more muted colors than the males. Some are extremely obvious, such as cardinals, where the male is bright red, while the female is tan with red highlights. Others, such as blue jays, are less obvious. Ostriches play this straight without being flamboyantly colored. The males have mostly black feathers, the females have brown.
- Inverted with many seabirds and birds-of-prey however, where the females are actually darker than the males.
- Most grizzly/polar bear hybrids have a grizzly bear father and a polar bear mother.
- Likewise, most leopard/lion and jaguar/lion hybrids have a leopard or jaguar father and a lioness mother, because they are closer in size. The far larger male lions rarely see the much smaller leopard and jaguar females as potential mates. An exaggerated version of the trope happened in Toronto in 2006 when a black jaguar and a lioness mated unexpectedly and (now inverting the trope) produced a black female cub and a spotted male cub.
- The banteng, a species of cattle native to East Asia, is largely sexually homomorphic, but for one difference: the females are a reddish brown, and the males are a dark black color.
- The extinct aurochs was the same in this regard. Males were black with a reddish stripe on the back, females were all red.
- In ancient Minoan artwork, men are usually painted reddish-brown, while women are white or ivory.
Alien and Monster Examples
- In the Discworld, Angua the werewolf is explicitly described as being a sleek golden-haired wolf in her animal form, who is often mistaken for a large Alsatian or labrador-type dog. Werewolves previously introduced in the canon have conformed to the dark, shaggy and visually sinister archetype. Averted with her brother Wolfgang in The Fifth Elephant, who is as blond as she is, being A Nazi by Any Other Name.
- In Destined to Lead, a female fea's stripes are always lighter than her base fur colour while a male's stripes are always darker.
- Inverted with Hippopotas and Hippowdon where the female is darker.
- Played straight with Doduo and Dodrio who have lighter necks when they are female.
- Some of the fourth generation Pokémon have this as a gender difference.
- The Ralts line, where the male-only Gallade has darker green hair than the more feminine-but both gendered Kirlia and Gardevoir (Ralts averts this by having a gender-neutral appearance).
- Meowstic, where males are primarily dark blue but have white accents while females are white with dark blue accents.
- The Nidoran lines: males are purple, females are light blue and tan.
- In Lilo & Stitch: The Series, Stitch is blue whereas Angel is pink with a white dash on her chest.
- In Ben 10, the Chimera Sui Genesis (Vilgax's species) has lighter green females. It also applies to the Tetramand female who is a pastel red versus Ben's/Fourarms' brick-red. Most of the Ben 10 species do this (pastel and lighter girls then robust and darker guys) if the female is ever seen.
Deity and Fantastical and Mythical Creature Examples
- In The Little Mermaid (1989), the girl mermaids have lighter tails and skin than the mermen.
- In How to Train Your Dragon franchise, Toothless is the only dragon of his breed - a Night Fury - to ever be officially seen, distinct in that he is an all-black dragon perfect for camouflaging at night and other dark areas. The closest we ever see to a female is the Light Fury in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, who looks similar to Toothless but with blue eyes, softer features and is completely white. Whether all Light Furies are what female Night Furies are or if they are a similar, but ultimately distinct species of dragon is never made absolutely clear. The fact that their offspring the NightLights are bicolor points to the later, while Grimmel immediately acknowledging her as female the moment he saw her hints at the former. Word of God confirms that they're separate but similar kinds of dragon.
- Zoo Tycoon features the unicorn, which can only be unlocked by naming an exhibit Xanadu. The females are the usual white seen in unicorns, while the males are black with orange manes and hooves. When bred, they produce foals that have black-and-white zebra stripes.
- Danny Phantom: The dragon siblings. In their dragon forms, Dora the Dragon Goast (the sister) is light blue, and her older brother, Prince Aragon, is black. The dragons have a human-ghost form too, but they don't count as examples in that form.
- Aztec art and books often portrayed the males as burnt-orange and the females as pale yellow.
- The Ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans did this as well — the males are painted a dark brown, while the female are painted as white (literally white, not a light skin tone). In his illustrated version of The Legend of Odysseus, Peter Connolly depicts gods and goddesses in this fashion, as contemporary images of idealised beauty.
- Some of the later Greek black-figure pottery makers used black and white to distinguish male and female figures. And there's the Homeric epithet "white-armed," indicating a high-class woman who doesn't have to work outdoors.
- Speaking of ancient cultures, this was one of many rules of ancient Egyptian paintings. Men were always painted with a dark-reddish pigment and women with a yellowish-paint.
- Another example of ancient Egyptian art that follows this trope is two sculptures from ca. 2580 BCE, depicting prince Rahotep and his wife, Nofret. Notably, limestone sculpture of Rahotep is painted tan, almost orange hue, while Nofret is a much paler, with eggshell white skin.
- Power Rangers and Super Sentai: Blue Rangers are usually male and wear a deep shade of blue. When things are switched up on occasion and a team has a girl as the Blue Ranger, she wears a lighter shade of blue instead.
- Inverted with Blue Dolphin (female in normal blue) and Ninja Blue/the Blue Alien Ranger (male in light blue).
- Also averted if a team is larger than usual and has both shades of blue on their roster, as in Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger/Power Rangers Dino Charge and Uchu Sentai Kyuranger; as in those cases both shades were worn by males. Though it was eventually played straight in Kyoryuger when Kyoryu Cyan passed his powers on to a woman - Kyoryu Blue's sister, in fact.
- Multiple Kamen Riders have female counterparts (in terms of looks or fighting style) who's suits possess a lighter shade than their male counterparts. Examples include:
- The English folk song "Sweet Polly Oliver" (whence cometh the trope of the same name) describes a woman disguising herself as a man and enlisting in the army to keep an eye on her beau while he's off to war. One of the things she does to make herself convincing is darken her skin.
- In Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, Zen has a noticeably darker skintone than Rei.
- Inverted in Buster Buddies, where Shiela, the only female character, has darker skin than Captain Hog and Don Tacos.