A clowder of cats: 30 fancy names for animal groups
Groups of animals often have interesting and unusual names. Sometimes these collective nouns have some connection to the animal, and sometimes it seems as if they were assigned by choosing a random entry in the dictionary. Take a look at this list of 30 names for groups of animals ranging from the familiar to the bizarre.
1. What is a group of cats called?
A group of cats is called a clowder. It can also be called a glaring, particularly if the cats are uncertain of each other. A litter of kittens can also be called a kindle.
Cats have been domesticated since prehistoric times, perhaps for 10,000 years; there is evidence (from a Neolithic grave on Cyprus) of some sort of association with humans dating back to the 8th century BCE. The ancient Egyptian domestic cat, which spread to Europe in historic times, was used as a retriever in hunting as well as for catching rats and mice. It and the modern domestic cat, Felis catus, are descended from Felis silvestris lybica, the Near Eastern subspecies of the wildcat. The domestic cat can and does interbreed with the subspecies of wildcat found in Eurasia and Africa.
Penguins are highly gregarious, and a population density of half a million birds in 500 acres has been counted at a colony in Antarctica. They do not eat while on land, subsisting on a layer of fat under the skin; this results in weight losses of up to 75 lbs. (33.8 kg) during the two-month incubation period.
Strictly speaking, "duck" refers to the female and "drake" to the male. Ducks are usually divided into three groups: the surface-feeding ducks—such as the mallard, wood duck, black duck, and teal—which frequent ponds, marshes, and other quiet waters; the diving ducks—such as the canvasback, scaup, scoter, eider, and redhead—found on bays, rivers, and lakes; and the fish-eating ducks, the mergansers, with slender, serrated bills, which also prefer open water.
Lions are the only cats that are social rather than solitary. Prides vary in composition but may occasionally include as many as 30 individuals. The lionesses do a considerable part of the hunting. In early historic times, lions ranged over Eurasia from Eastern Europe to India and over all of Africa. They were eliminated from Europe and the Middle East by the beginning of the 2nd century, and from most of the rest of their range in recent times.
Elephants are browsing animals, feeding on fruits, leaves, shoots, and tall grasses; they consume hundreds of pounds of food a day and drink up to 50 gal (190 liters) of water. They have no fixed living place, but travel about in herds of up to 100 animals, including young bulls (males), cows (females), and calves. Old males are generally solitary or live in small groups. A rogue elephant is a solitary old male that has become violent and dangerous.
All apes are forest dwellers and most spend at least some of the time in trees. Except for adult gorillas, they can run along branches on all fours; they are also able to move about by brachiation, or arm-over-arm swinging. Tool use and limited toolmaking are found among apes.
In winter they gather at night by thousands in communal roosts. Crows, along with the other members of the family Corvidae, are considered to be the most intelligent of all birds. They are easily tamed and can learn to mimic some human sounds. The New Caledonian crow, C. moneduloides, is especially noted for its intelligence with respect to tools and toolmaking; it can use sticks, wire, string, and other objects as tools and can reshape them so that the object is better suited to a specific use.
"Gaggle" comes from the Middle English gagel, from gagelen, meaning "to cackle," probably of imitative origin.
Strictly speaking, the term "goose" is applied to the female and "gander" to the male. In North America, the wild (or Canada) goose, Branta Canadensis, is known by its honking call and by the migrating V-shaped flocks in spring and fall. Geese were raised in ancient times by the Romans and other Europeans and were sacred in Egypt 4,000 years ago.
The tallest of animals, giraffes travel in small herds whose membership typically readily changes; females can form long-lasting relationship with each other. They can outrun most of their enemies and have been known to kill lions with a kick. They are most vulnerable when spreading their forelegs and lowering their heads to drink; however, they can do without water for long intervals. They are among the very few mammals that cannot swim at all.
Day-active animals, they move about in herds—also called mobs—and sleep on the ground at night. A single young is born in an immature state after a gestation period of about 40 days and is suckled in the mother's pouch for about six months. After it begins to graze, it returns frequently to the pouch for shelter and transport until it is too large to be carried.
Hippopotamuses usually live in herds of about 15 animals. Much of their time is spent standing or swimming underwater, where they feed on aquatic plants; they must rise to breathe every 5 minutes or so. At night groups of animals feed on the shore.
"Buffalo" is a name commonly applied to the American bison but correctly restricted to certain related African and Asian mammals of the cattle family. For many centuries, the water buffalo has been domesticated as a draft animal, but wild forms still exist in Borneo and herds descended from domesticated animals live in a wild state elsewhere. Water buffalo live in swampy areas and near rivers, where they wallow in the mud. Wild water buffalo are extremely fierce and have been known to kill fully grown tigers.
The so-called wild hogs found in parts of the United States are descendants of the European wild boar, introduced for sport hunting, or hybrid offspring of escaped domestic hogs. Hogs were introduced into the Americas by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493; in 1609 hogs were shipped to the Jamestown colony from England.
Rhinoceroses are herbivorous, browsers or grazers according to the species. Most live near water and like to wallow in mud; all swim well. They have poor vision but good hearing and a good sense of smell. Mostly solitary animals, they feed by night and in the early morning and evening; they rest in shade during the heat of the day. They are often accompanied by small tickbirds (oxpeckers) that feed on parasites in their skin and, by their cries, alert them to danger.
There are six subspecies of Panthera tigris: Amur or Siberian, Sumatran, Malayan, North Indochinese, Bengal, and South China or Amoy. Tigers are the largest species of the cat family. The Siberian tiger may be 13 ft (4 m) long, including the tail, and weigh 650 lbs. (290 kg), much larger than any lion. Tigers are solitary animals and usually hunt at night.
Most large whales travel in small pods, or schools, but some, like the fin whale, swim alone or in pairs. Small cetaceans form schools of up to several thousand individuals. Most large whales are found in open ocean, where they migrate thousands of miles between feeding and breeding grounds.
Gray wolves hunt singly and in packs (family groups), which typically include about five individuals. Under severe conditions, especially in winter, several families may join together, forming a pack of up to 30 individuals, rarely more. During the mating season, wolf pairs establish dens, usually in a cave or underground burrow, in which they raise the young; both parents bring home food. A pair is believed to remain mated for life.
Tree squirrels make nests in holes in trees or on branches. They spend much time on the ground, foraging for fruit, nuts, and insects; they also sometimes eat eggs, young birds, and smaller mammals. Members of many species store food for the winter in holes or buried in the ground, and locate these stores by means of smell. They do not hibernate.
Flamingoes nests are cones of mud 1 to 2 feet (30–61 cm) high and about 1 foot (30 cm) across with a depression on top. The mates take turns incubating the one or two eggs, sitting astride the nest with their legs folded flat on either side.
During courtship, the crested male common peacock displays his elongated upper tail coverts—a magnificent green and gold erectile train adorned with blue-green "eyes"—before the duller-plumaged peahen. The peacock is well known as an ornamental bird, though it is quarrelsome and does not mix well with other domestic animals.
Eagles are solitary birds, said to mate for life. The nest, or aerie, of twigs and sticks is built at a vantage point high in a tree or on a cliff in a permanent feeding territory and is added to year after year, the refuse of the previous nests decomposing beneath the new additions. Nests can become enormous, measuring up to ten feet across and weighing well over 1,000 pounds.
"Ferret" is the popular name for a domesticated polecat. The name is also applied to a related wild species, the North American, or black-footed, ferret, which inhabits the Great Plains and is now extremely rare. Its range nearly coincides with that of the prairie dogs, which constitute most of its diet; it is often found in prairie dog burrows.
Solitary most of the year, foxes do not live in dens except in the breeding season; they sleep concealed in grasses or thickets, their tails curled around them for warmth. During the breeding season a fox pair establishes a den, often in a ground burrow made by another animal, in which the young are raised.
In referring to domestic cattle, a grown male is a bull, a grown female a cow, an infant a calf, and an animal between one and two years old a yearling. A female that has not given birth is a heifer; a castrated male is a steer. Western, or European, domestic cattle are thought to be descended mainly from the aurochs, a large European wild ox domesticated during the Stone Age, extinct since 1627. Domestic cattle were first brought to the Western Hemisphere by Columbus on his second voyage.
Deer are found in most parts of the world except Australia. The whitetail was nearly exterminated but is now restored in large numbers in the Eastern United States and to a lesser extent in the West. Deer are polygamous and eat a variety of herbaceous plants, lichens, mosses, and tree leaves and bark.
Several poultry birds, including the chicken and the goose, were domesticated over 3,000 years ago. The chief poultry bird is the chicken, which probably originated as a jungle fowl in SW Asia. Until recently, poultry were raised for domestic and commercial use on many farms in the United States. Large-scale producers now virtually monopolize the poultry industry. Many distinct chicken breeds, once appreciated for their particular combinations of characteristics, have been combined through selective breeding into a few relatively standard types that are notably efficient converters of feed into meat or eggs. The dominant meat chicken today is a cross between the fast-growing female White Plymouth Rock chicken, and the deep-breasted male Cornish chicken. The predominant egg type in the United States today is the White Leghorn chicken.
Dolphins communicate by means of a demonstrably descriptive language understood by more than one species, using all the sounds in their repertory. They are observed to converse, and it has been repeatedly shown that one animal can convey instructions to another. Computer-aided efforts are being made, so far without success, to learn the dolphin language and to teach dolphins human speech, either in its normal form or translated into whistle combinations.
When dolphins are attacked by sharks or killer whales, they attempt to outswim them using complex evasive strategy, or batter to death, acting in a group. If one of their number is injured or sick, they make every effort to rescue it, holding it above the water for air. Play behavior is highly developed in the bottlenose dolphin from infancy through old age, and in this connection it displays considerable tool-making, tool-using, and manipulative ability. For example, a dolphin has been observed to kill a fish, strip its skeleton, and use the bones, held in the mouth, to pry another fish out of a crevice.
Owls superficially resemble short-necked hawks, except that their eyes are directed forward and are surrounded by disks of radiating feathers. This peculiarity lends them an appearance of studious intelligence, and the owl has long been used as a symbol of wisdom. Although owls are able to see in daylight, their eyes are especially adapted to seeing in partial darkness, and most owls spend the day sleeping in caves, hollow trees, and other secluded places. Many owls usurp the deserted nests of other birds, especially hawks; the burrowing owl of the New World lives in deserted prairie-dog burrows or digs its own. Their plumage is so soft and fluffy that they are almost noiseless in flight.
There are three living zebra species; a fourth species, the quagga, became extinct in the late 19th century. Most zebras inhabit open plains or brush country, while mountain zebras favor rocky hillsides. Zebra herds on the Serengeti of E Africa can be as large as 200,000 individuals, but all are organized in family groups led by a stallion. Some authorities believe that zebras' stripes evolved as visual identification to reinforce social bonds with other zebras, rather than for disguise or insect protection.