Are you confused about all this zoological mumbo jumbo? Here is a list of some cool words and definitions that you can show off with in your next scrabble game. If there’s any relevant words you think are missing, or you’d like explained, just contact us.
Altricial describes creatures that are born unable to fend for themselves as opposed to Precocial animals. Generally altricial refers to animals that are born with closed eyes and lack fur or feathers. Many birds are altricial, as are Carnivorous Mammals, like Cheetah.
Antlers are a pair of branched bony protrusions from an animal’s skull that are shed annually (yearly) and differ from Horns.
Aposematic colourings are used to scare away Predators, e.g. strong colours on frogs.
Arthropods are Invertebrates that have an external skeleton instead of an internal skeleton. Common members of this group are the Insects, Arachnids (Spiders) and Centipedes and Millipedes.
Commensalism is a form of Symbiosis. A relationship between two organisms where one benefits and the other suffers no harm, like birds using trees as a place for a nest.
Cytotoxic Venom attacks the cellular tissue, often starting as a red bump and slowly deteriorating. Snakes and spiders are some of the animals capable of injecting this venom.
Digitigrade describes a foot posture where the heel and instep are raised so only the digits touch the ground. Common in predators like cats and dogs, enabling them to move quietly. Plantigrade and Unguligrade are other postures.
Ectothermic animals are those that use external influences to control their body temperature. This is notable in Reptiles.
Endothermic animals are those that can control their body temperature themselves. For example by metabolising food they can generate heat. This is most common in Mammals and birds.
Grazers are animals that each ground based vegetation, mainly grass. Zebras and Hippos are Bulk Grazers, and eat any type of vegetation, whereas Wildebeest and Warthog are Selective Grazers eating specific types of vegetation.
Haemotoxic Venom prevents the blood from clotting, resulting in continuous bleeding. Snakes are capable of injecting this venom.
Hindgut Fermenters are Ungulate animals where food is completely digested in the stomach. This is a less efficient digestive system than in Ruminants, so animals have to eat far more, and are therefore much larger. These include Zebra, Hippos and Elephants.
Horns are a pair of protrusions from an animal’s skull that permanent. They are bony with a keratin outer layer. Horns are different to Antlers.
Insectivores are creatures that feed mostly on Insects.
Invertebrates are animals without a backbone and may or may not have an external skeleton. Insects are invertebrates.
Litter is the offspring from the same parents. This term is generally used for Mammals. The offspring of birds is usually referred to as a Brood which have hatched from a Clutch of eggs.
Mammals are characterised by a number of attributes including having mammary glands (boobs!), hairy bodies, external ears and are Endothermic. Humans are mammals, as are Elephants and Mice.
Mimicry describes the ability of an animal to pretend it is another. This can be for defensive reasons, for example the False Cobra which is harmless but appears and behaves similarly to a genuine cobra. Mimicry can also be used offensively, for example by predators that look like their prey. Animals can mimic vocally as well, for example the Fork-Tailed Drongo can mimic it’s predators to confuse them.
Monotremes are the most primitive Mammals and are egg-laying. The Duck-Billed Platypus is a famous example.
Mutualism is a form of Symbiosis. A relationship between two organisms where both benefit, like bees pollinating flowers while they gain nectar.
Neurotoxic Venom attacks the nervous system potentially leading to paralysis and difficulties with breathing. Snakes, scorpions and spiders are some of the animals capable of injecting this venom.
Non-Passerine are birds that aren’t Passerines and generally have feet designed for specific functions, like webbed feet for swimming or feet for grabbing prey.
Oviparous animals are those that lay eggs, and where the young develop inside an egg. This is the most common reproductive method and occurs in birds, Reptiles, Insects, fish and others. Viviparous and Ovoviviparous are the other methods.
Ovoviviparous animals are those where the young develop inside an egg, but the egg remains inside the mother until it hatches. This occurs in some fish, sharks and Reptiles. Viviparous and Oviparous are the other reproductive methods.
Parasitism is a form of Symbiosis. A relationship between two organisms where one benefits at the expense of the other, like a tick sucking blood from another animal.
Passerine is a bird classification, describing birds that have feet suited to perching. All passerines are small to medium sized birds such as swallows. Other birds are classified as Non-Passerines.
Placental Mammals have a placenta allowing the young to remain in the body of the mother and develop further before being born. Most mammals are placental.
Poison in this context is a Toxin that can be absorbed through the skin, and are generally administered passively when touched or eaten, i.e. aren’t used to attack, more as a defensive mechanism. The Puffer Fish is an example of a poisonous creature.
Polygamy describes animals that have multiple mates. Polygynous describes one male mating with multiple females and the females will often do most of the parental care, for example in Lions. A rarer form is Polyandry and describes a female mating with multiple males who generally undertake the parental care, for example in Honeybees.
Precocial creatures that are born ready to go as opposed to Altricial creatures, and can pretty much fend for themselves. Many prey are precocial, as they need to be able to run from predators as soon as they are born, for example Zebra.
Reptiles are characterised by a number of attributes including, most obviously, their dry skin usually in the form of scales or plates. They are also Ectothermic which means they use their environment to regulate their body temperature as they cannot generate body heat by metabolising food like Mammals. Crocodiles, Lizards and Snakes are examples of Reptiles.
Ruminants are Ungulate Mammals where food is digested through a series of stomach chambers, the rumen where it is fermented and regurgitated to be chewed further (Chewing the Cud) before entering the reticulum, omasum and the fourth stomach chamber, the abomasum. This system allows animals to get the maximum nutrients out of the vegetation. Ruminants include Antelope, Buffalo and Giraffe. Other ungulates are Hindgut Fermenters.
Sexual Dimorphism describes the varying difference between males and females. In some animals males and females are very similar so show little dimorphism, for example Elephants. Others, for example Peacocks are very dimorphic.
Symbiosis involves the relationship between two species that results in positive or negative consequences for at least one of the species. For example a clownfish living within an anemone (Think Nemo!) which protects it from predators. These relationships can be categorised as Commensal, Mutualistic or Parasitic.
Tapetum Lucidum is a layer of tissue at the back of the eye used to see in low light conditions. It reflects light back through the retina so that it can build a better picture. Common in Nocturnal animals which is why they see well at night and why their eyes reflect light in the night, for example in cats.
Taxonomy is the process of naming and classifying organisms, so that there is a formal system recognising the diversity of life on earth. Read more about this here.
Thanatosis is a form of protective behaviour where the creature pretends to be dead. Many Predators only eat live prey and will walk away. A wide variety of creatures use this behaviour to avoid predation.
Unguligrade describes a foot posture where the animal stands only on their toes, which have evolved large nails or hooves. This is particularly suited to running, and occurs in animals such as zebra and giraffe. Other postures are Digitigrade and Plantigrade.
Venom is a Toxin that is injected into another creature, for example using fangs or stings.
Viviparous animals are those where the young develop inside the body of the mother, as opposed to in an egg – see Oviparous and Ovoviviparous. Mammals are the most common creatures to behave this way.
We will be adding new words to this list as they come up, but of course if there’s any relevant words you think are missing, or you’d like explained, just contact us.