updated 7/19/2004 10:43:40 AM ET 2004-07-19T14:43:40

National Geographic Ultimate Explorer correspondent Mireya Mayor discovers that in nature, females often call the shots. Scientists studying courtship and mating in nature are finding a world where females often dominate the courtship and mating process, where females sometimes change into males, and where some eschew males to be with other females.

As a primatologist who has studied lemurs in Madagascar, Mayor knows a thing our two about this phenomenon. The ring-tailed lemur she studied once was thought to be the only female-dominant primate  — but things have changed. Now, scientists are investigating a broad array of species where females appear to be dominant.

Mayor’s journey takes her on a continent-hopping tour of the animal world. From an Australian male bowerbird, wooing highly selective females with an elaborate song, dance and ornate “love nest,” to a group of Japanese macaques in which females sometimes choose to be with females, to a species of fish where a dominant female transforms into a male when necessary.

Mayor examines all this and more, and what emerges is a portrait of the amazing diversity of the animal world, where what may seem like random behavior actually makes a tremendous amount sense for species survival and success.

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