There are so many new and strange terms to know when learning about Animals, and hopefully this list helps to clear up some confusion! I'll be adding to it as I go, and it is by no means complete. And as always, if there is something that needs clarification, don't be afraid to ask!

Caribou are an exception
to the Antler Rule. Males
and Females have them!


Antler: Antlers are growths made out of Bone. They are only found in members of the Deer Family (Cervidae). They typically only grow on males, and are often shed and regrown each year.
Arboreal: There are actually two definitions- One means "relating to Trees," the other means "Living in Trees." In our case, we're probably using the second one 9 times out of 10.
Asexual Reproduction: When an animal (usually an Invertebrate) is able to reproduce without a partner. Several different Starfish are able to reproduce Asexually; if a part of their body breaks off, it can regrow into a whole new Starfish.


Baleen: Flexible keratin plates that are found in the mouths of Baleen Whales. Whales use these plates to help them filter feed.
Benthic Zone: Zone at the far bottom of a body of water, including seas and lakes.
Bipedal: Able to walk on two legs.
Brood Parasitism: A practice of tricking another animal into raising your offspring. For example, some species of Cuckoo will lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Those other birds will then incubate and raise the young Cuckoos.


Carapace: The dorsal section of a shell or exoskeleton. Found in crustaceans, arachnids, and turtles/tortoises.
Victoria Crowned Pigeons are
members of the Bird Class
(Aves) and the Pigeon Family
Carrion: Dead animal remains.
Classification: Organizing different life forms into a Taxonomic scheme, based on their relationships to one another. Biological Classification is hierarchical and consists of 8 major ranks:

  1. Domain - Organizes by cell type (Animals are Eukarya)
  2. Kingdom - Organizes by Animal, Plant, Fungi, etc. (All Animals belong to Animalia)
  3. Phylum - Organizes based on body type - Chordata (Vertebrates), Arthropoda (Arthropods), Mollusca (Mollusks), etc.
  4. Class - A more specialized grouping - Mammalia (Mammals), Aves (Birds), Reptilia (Reptiles), etc.
  5. Order - Getting even more specialized - Carnivora (Carnivorous Mammals), Rodentia (Rodents), etc.
  6. Family - Even more specific, these animals often look very alike - Usidae (Bears), Canidae (Dogs), etc.
  7. Genus - The closest two animals can be related without being of the same species - Canis (Wolves and Jackals), Vulpes (Foxes), etc.
  8. Species - An animal that can interbreed and produce fertile offspring - Canis lupus (Grey Wolves)
There are also different in-between ranks- Superorders, subspecies, infraclasses, etc. Those help Taxonomists to create even more structured relationships. All ranks are capitalized. Genera are Capitalized and Italicized. A species is written in all lowercase and italicized.
Crepuscular: A term that describes animals that are active primarily at dusk and dawn.

Dogs were domesticated
around 15,000 years ago


Diurnal: Active during the day, sleeps at night.
Domestication: The process of taking an animal and selectively breeding it over years and years to make it more beneficial and desirable to humans. Not all animals are able to be domesticated.
Dorsal: Anatomical term referring to the back of a creature. For example, dorsal fins in fish and cetaceans are found on their backs.


Echolocation: The process of location objects by bouncing sound waves off of them. Dolphins use Echolocation to hunt.
Embryonic Dispause: A reproductive strategy where the fertilized embryo does not implant in the uterus right away. Around 100 mammalian species practice this reproductive method, typically to ensure that their young are born at ideal times. (Also known as Delayed Implantation)
The Asian Wild Horse was
once Extinct-In-The-Wild.
It has been reintroduced.
Endemic: Found in and area, prevalent in an area. Kangaroos are endemic to Australia.
Exoskeleton: An external skeleton that supports and protects the animal's body. Insects have Exoskeletons.
Extant: Still existing, the opposite of extinct. The Asian Wild Horse is an extant species, the Tarpan is extinct.
Extinct: No longer existing.
Extinct-In-The-Wild: When an animal can no longer be found in the wild, and all remaining individuals live only in captivity.


Feral: What happens when a domesticated animal returns to the wild. Mustangs are Feral Horses.
Filter Feeding: A feeding method employed by several animals types, including Whales, Fish and Flamingos. Food enters the mouth and is trapped in a filter while the water is strained out. Baleen Whales use their namesake Baleen to complete this process.
Fledge: When a young bird is old enough, and has the feathers capable for flight. most young birds leave their parents not long after fledging.
Forelock: A piece of hair that grows at the top of a horses' mane. It falls between the ears and onto the forehead.
Fry: Fish young.


Gestation Period: The length of time between conception and birth.
Gill: The respiratory organ found on aquatic animals that allows them to draw oxygen from the water.

Lesser Kudus have
spiraled horns


Hand: A unit of measurement most often used when measuring the shoulder height of horses. Equivalent to 4 inches.
Hibernation: A state of inactivity that many animals go through during the winter months when food supplies are more scarce. During hibernation their heart rate and breathing slows down, and their body temperature drops.
Horn: A projection from the skull of an animal made of Keratin and Bone. Animals do not shed their horns.


Incubation Period: The time between when an egg is laid and when it hatches. 
Instar: A developmental phase in Arthropods. As they grow towards maturity, the larvae molt. An Instar is the phase between each molt.
Invasive Species: An animal that is not native to a specific area, and causes damage to the native environment and the other species in it.


Juvenile: An animal that has not yet reached its adult size or form. 
Rhinoceros horns are
made from Keratin


Keratin: Fibrous proteins that make up a hair, nails, and horns.
Kleptoparasitism: The behavior of one animal stealing from another. This usually happens with food, but the term also applies to the theft of nesting materials. African Fish Eagles are kleptoparasitic. They will steal fish from other birds right from their claws in mid-air


Larva: A juvenile form of an animal that looks very distinct from its adult form. Caterpillars are Butterfly Larvae.


Marsupial: An infraclass of Mammals that gives birth to very underdeveloped young. They infants then continue to develop within their mothers' external pouches. 
Wombats are very silly
looking Marsupials
Metamorphosis: The biological process that some animals go through in order to reach their adult form. Tadpoles go through Metamorphosis in order to become Frogs.
Migration: The seasonal, long-distance movement between different habitats. Many animals migrate based on the climate and on food availability.
Molt: The periodic shedding of shells, feathers, hair, etc.
Monogamous: Remaining with a single partner during a breeding season. Some animals are monogamous for life.
Monotreme: An order of Mammalia that consists of  five extant species. Though they are warm blooded and produce milk (albeit in a slightly different way) Monotremes lay eggs. Echidnas and the Platypus are Monotremes. There are some who beleive Monotremes should be considered reptiles (due to similarities in the digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems) and others who believe they should be a sister-class to Mammalia.
Mouthbrooder: An animal that takes care of its offspring in its mouth, either as eggs or juveniles. Most mouthbrooders are fish, though some frogs also exhibit the behavior.


Niche: The specific role that an animal fills within its habitat.
Noctunal: Active during the night.


Osmetrium: An organ found on the larvae of a handful of Butterfly species (including the Black Swallowtail). It is normally hidden, but when the larvae is threatened it rises and emits foul smelling pheromones.
Oviparous: Giving birth to young by laying eggs which then hatch outside of the mother's body. All birds are oviparous.
Sandhill Cranes are
Partial Migrants. The
northern populations
migrate south. The
southern populations
live there year round.
Ovoviviparous: Giving birth to live young which first hatched from eggs inside the mother. Some sharks and reptiles are ovoviviparous.


Partial Migrant: An animal species were some populations migrate and others don't.
Pelagic Zone: The area in the ocean that is neither near the bottom, nor near shore. Also known as "open sea."
Pellet: Birds typically cannot chew, and so their food is swallowed whole. In some species, the indigestible materials are regurgitated in the form of a pellet. These pellets include bones, feathers, teeth, etc.
Plastron: The flat, underbelly part of a Turtle or Tortoise shell.
Polygamous: When a male animal mates with multiple females within a single breeding season.


Quadrupedal: Movement on four legs.

Giraffes are ruminants that have
reticulated patterns.


Reticulated: A pattern that resembles a net or network.
Ruminant:  A hoofed mammal that has a four chambered stomach.The different compartments mix and digest the plant matter.


Sedentary: The opposite of Migratory. Refers to animals that remain in a single range throughout their lives.
Sexual Dimorphism: The difference between males and females of the same species. This includes changes in size, color, and body type.
Even though they walk on
two feet, all birds are Tetrapods
because they still have four limbs
Smolt: Young, juvenile salmon who are on their migration from the streams to the sea.


Taxonomy: The science of naming and organizing different species, and placing them within a classification scheme. (See: Classification)
Terrestrial: An animal that spends its life on the ground.
Tetrapod: A Superclass of Vertebrates that contains animals possessing four limbs. All Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Birds are Tetrapods.
Tusk: A tooth that projects out from the mouth of an animal. Elephant tusks are actually their second upper incisors.


Ungulate: Term that traditionally refers to hoofed mammals, like Horses, Antelopes, and Deer. In the taxonomic system, the superorder Ungulata includes hoofed mammals and some orders of non-hoofed mammals, like Whales.

An Ibex is a Viviparous Ungulate


Ventral: Referring to the belly or underside.
Vestigial: A part of an animal that once had a purpose, but lost it during the course of evolution. The part continues to exist in a diminished state. Many whales still have tiny vestigial leg bones because they evolved from four legged land animals.
Viviparous: Giving birth to live young that developed inside the mother with a placenta. Most mammals are viviparous.


Wattle: A flap or growth of skin that grows from the face or neck of an animal.
Weaning: The period of time when a female mammal stops producing ilk for their offspring.


Yolk: The part of an egg that feeds the developing animal embryo.


  1. Wow. An animal for each letter of the alphabet. Cool... I'm not being sarcastic :)

  2. Woops. Sorry. I meant a animal term for each letter of the alphabet is cool.


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