The Nature Writers of Texas

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gaggle of Names Used for Animals and Their Young
by Ro Wauer

Recent conversation about the correct names for young cows reminded me of a Nature Note that I had done for the Advocate in June 1996. On re-reading that note, I decided to repeat it because it helped address a number of questions about animal names, many that often are incorrectly used. For instance, the young of a bull and cow are called caves, but they also are called “veals,” “vealers,” “stirks,” and even “hogs” without references to their sex. And male calves are called “bullocks,” “stots,” “bulls,” and “bull-calves,” and the females are called “heifers.”

The young of rabbits, hares, skunks, beavers, otters, ocelots, mountain lions, and bobcats, as well as house cats, are called “kittens.” And everyone should be familiar with the words “pups” and “fawns” for young dogs and deer, respectively. But how many of you know what a squealer is? It is a young quail, not a pig.

When you hear someone mention “hens,” you usually think of the female chicken, but the term “hen” also includes the females of fish and lobsters, as well as the female canary. And although the words “bull” and “cow” may refer to cattle, they also refer to the male and female moose, terrapin, and several other animals.

Here are some additional names of young animals: antling of an ant, spiderling of a spider, cygnet or a swan, chicken of a turtle, cub of a fox, calf of a giraffe, gosling of a goose, chigger of a mite, maggot of a fly, and squab of a dove.

And then there are the names of groups of animals that are misused almost as often. Some of these, such as a school of fish, swarm of bees, pride of lions, and skein of geese, are reasonably well known; others are not. Did you know that a “gaggle of geese” is the proper terminology when the geese are on the water? And groups of swallows are known as flights. But what are gulps, murders, dules, budlings, and charms? It would be proper to refer to a gulp of cormorants, a murder of crows, a dule of doves, a budling of ducks, and charm of finches. Groups of hawks, herons, magpies, and owls are properly known as a cast (hawks), siege (herons), tiding (magpies), and parliament (owls).

Here are additional group names: a covey of partridge, nye of pheasants, host of sparrows, wisp of snipe, masting of storks, spring of teal, rafter of turkeys, pitying of turtle-doves, fall of woodcocks, and decent of woodpeckers. And groups of wolves are properly known as routes, groups of squirrels as deays, turtles as bales, and toads as knots.

Numerous other rarely used names are used for animals, many of which are used only by those individuals with special interests. But the English language is sprinkled with fascinating names for animal young and groups, although they may be seldom used.

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