Introduction: Names for Animals and their Offspring
Wildlife encounters are often more common in the summer months, but the truth is anytime is OK too. Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, visiting an aquarium or just heading outside for a hike or a day at the beach, you’re likely to encounter insects and animals who are enjoying the great outdoors as much as you do.
Dictionary.com (here) came up with some interesting stuff about animal vocabulary. You’re probably already familiar with some of the more “fancy” names for animals – words such as canine, feline, equine, or bovine – all Latin terms for dogs, cats, horses, and cows. In these words, the name for each animal is paired with the Latin suffix -ine, meaning ‘of or about’, ‘of the nature of’, ‘made of’ or ‘like’. There are many more examples of this type of word formation that may surprise you. I have put together a list – have I missed any?
How Animals are Named
Scientists use a special naming system to identify and group all living and extinct creatures. The system is called ‘taxonomy’, and it uses a set of rules to ensure every different type of creature has a unique name. The system was invented by a scientist and explorer called Carolus Linnaeus. His idea was to give each creature a two-part name: a species name and a genus name:
- The genus name is the family to which the creature belongs.
- The species name is the unique type of creature in that family.
Both names are written in italics, and the genus name always starts with a capital letter: for example, small and medium-sized cats belong to the genus Felis (a name that comes from the latin word for cat). Within this genus, there are eight species of cats, the last two of which are extinct:
- Felis bieti – the Chinese mountain cat
- Felis catus – the domestic cat (or pet cat)
- Felis chaus – a jungle cat that lives in Asia
- Felis margarita – the sandcat
- Felis nigripes – the black-footed cat or small-spotted cat that lives in Africa
- Felis silvestris – the wildcat
- Felis attica – an extinct cat that was a bit like a lynx
- Felis lunesis – an extinct wildcat
Animal groups and babies often have strange names. For example, baby sharks are called pups, baby kangaroos are called joeys, and a group of camels are a flock.
Most animals have different names depending on whether they are male, female, young, domesticated, or in groups. I wrote an article for Nil Desperandum about the names given to animal groups on page 14 of Issue 24 here.
Commonly-used Names for Baby Animals
The term calf is probably most commonly known as the name for a baby cow, but it is actually used for several types of baby animals:
- dolphin (sometimes called pup instead)
The word pup is used for many baby animals, including (but not limited to) dogs, several rodents and sharks:
- beaver (also called kitten)
- coyote (also called whelp)
- dog (commonly called puppy)
- fox (also called cub or kit
- guinea pig
- hedgehog (also called piglet)
- mouse (also called kitten or pinkie)
- otter (also called whelp)
- prairie dog
- rat (also called kitten or pinkie)
- squirrel (they can also be called kits or kittens)
- wolf (also called whelp)
Cub is the name for most baby big cats as well as other animals:
- badger (also called kits)
- tiger (also called whelp)
- walrus (can also be called pup)
Baby marsupial animals, as below, are referred to as joeys:
Several types of baby animals are referred to as hatchlings. The term hatchling can also be used for some baby birds, but only for the first few days of their life. The thing they all have in common is that they all hatch from eggs:
- snake (but can also be called a neonate or snakelet).
- lizard (for example, Anoles is the more commonly-known group name for a family of lizards called Dactyloidae, native to warmer parts of the Americas)
Other Baby Animal Names
Several names are specific to a particular type of animal, such as:
- antling – Baby ants are called antlings but can also be referred to as lava or pupa.
- baby – A baby ape can be called a baba.
- bunny – A baby rabbit is usually called a bunny but can also be called a kitten or kit.
- caterpillar – caterpillar or chrysalis is a name given to baby butterflies (as well as larva and pupa).
- chick – This is the general word for most young birds, including nesting birds, chickens, birds of prey and others.
- cockrell – The term cockrell is used to describe baby male chickens, also known as a young rooster or chick.
- codling – Codling is the name for a baby codfish.
- colt – The word colt is used for a male foal.
- cria – Baby llamas and alpacas are called cria.
- cygnet – Young swans are usually called cygnets, but can also be described as flappers.
- eaglet – A baby eagle is called an eaglet.
- fawn – Baby deer and pronghorns are referred to as fawn.
- filly – The word filly describes a female foal.
- fledgling – The description of fledgling applies once a chick can leave the nest but isn’t yet self-sufficient.
- foal – Baby asses, horses, mules and zebras are called foals.
- froglet – A froglet is a baby frog, which start out as a tadpole or polliwog.
- fry – Newborn fish are called fry.
- infant – Baby monkeys, gorillas and baboons are called infants.
- kids – Baby goats are referred to as kids.
- kit – Baby ferrets, skunks, badgers and weasels are called kits.
- kitten – Baby cats (pets, not big cats) are called kittens, as are baby servals.
- lamb – The name for a baby sheep is lamb.
- larva – Many insects and bugs begin life as larva, such as bees, beetles, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and butterflies. It’s also the name for baby clams.
- leveret – the name for a baby hare is a leveret.
- maggot – A baby fly begins as a maggot – it’s all downhill after that.
- nestling – A chick can be called a nestling once it passes the hatchling stage, but cannot leave the nest.
- nymph – Nymph is the name for a baby cockroach or grasshopper.
- owlet – The term for a young owl is owlet.
- piglet – The word piglet is used for baby pigs, hogs and boars. They can also be called farrow or shoat.
- poult – The name used for a young turkey is poult.
- puggle – Strange, but the name for a young platypus is puggle.
- pullet – The term pullet describes a baby female chicken (also known as a young hen or a chick).
- salamanderling – Salamanderling is the name for a baby salamander.
- spiderling – Baby spiders are called spiderlings.
- squab – A baby pigeon is called a squab but can be called squeakers.
- tadpole – a baby toad is called a tadpole.
- wormlet – The name for a baby worm is wormlet.
A goose (plural geese) is a bird of any of several waterfowl species in the family Anatidae. This group comprises the general Anser (the grey geese and white geese) and Branta (the black geese). Other birds, mostly related to the shelducks, have ‘goose’ as part of their names.
More distantly-related members of the family Anatidae are swans, most of which are larger than true geese, and ducks, which are smaller.
The term ‘goose’ may refer to either a male or female bird, but when paired with ‘gander’, it refers specifically to a female one (the latter referring to a male).
Young geese, before fledging, are called goslings.
The collective noun for a group of geese on the ground is a gaggle; when in flight, they are called a skein, a team, or a wedge; but when flying close together, they are called a plump.
Sourced/Excerpted from and Further Reading
- Primarily from https://grammarist.com/usage/animal-adjectives/ ↑
- Carolus Linnaeus was an 18th century Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist and physician who formalised binomial nomenclature, the modern system of naming organisms. He is known as the “father of modern taxonomy”. ↑
- Source: Simplescimum, at https://simplescimum.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/how-do-animals-get-their-names/ ↑