When Animals Gather, Our Language Gets Lyrical

Candice Gaukel Andrews June 6, 2017 3

When there are numbers of zebras, something magical happens: our language becomes fanciful and inspired. This group of animals is now a “dazzle” or a “zeal.” ©Patrick Endres

When we get together to appreciate the arts, for political purposes, for social interactions or simply for support, we can be called, among other things, an audience, a band, a bunch, a cohort, a crowd, a group, a mob or a troupe.

But it seems we get extremely creative with our language when we describe nonhuman animals that cluster. From a “shrewdness of apes” to a “zeal of zebras,” we have come up with some inspired and inventive terms for the gatherings of beings who share our planet.

Such an imaginative vocabulary used to label these plural “others” makes me happy. It shows that we have taken some time to consider our fellows in the animal kingdom and have chosen to bestow upon them a richness of our words. Even the more derogatory terms—such as a “conspiracy of lemurs” or an “unkindness of ravens”—reveals, at least, contemplation for the neighbors that share our environment.

Apes are known for their intelligence. That may be why together they form a “shrewdness.” ©Eric Rock

While in our everyday conversations, we may refer to owls, plovers or starlings by the word flock and not by the expressions of parliament, congregation or murmuration, they are officially listed in the Oxford Dictionary. 

Below, you’ll find just some of the strangest and most oddly beautifully names we have for groups of animals.

Amphibians and reptiles

• Cobras: a quiver
• Crocodiles: a bask
• Frogs: an army
• Salamanders: a maelstrom
• Toads: a knot
• Turtles: a bale or a turn

Birds

• Bobolinks: a chain
• Blackbirds: a cloud, a cluster or a merle
• Buzzards: a wake
• Cormorants: a gulp

Make sure to tell your friends about the “gulp” of flightless cormorants you encountered in the Galapagos. ©Patrick Endres

• Crows: a murder or a horde
• Doves: a dule (or a dole) or a pitying (specific to turtledoves)
• Ducks: a paddling (on the water)
• Dunlins: a fling (in flight)
• Eagles: a convocation
• Falcons: a cast
• Finches: a charm
• Flamingos: a stand
• Geese: a gaggle (on the ground), a skein (in flight) or a wedge (in V formation in flight)
• Hawks: a cast or a kettle (riding a thermal)
• Herons: a siege
• Jays: a party
• Lapwings: a deceit
• Larks: an exaltation
• Mallards: a sord (in flight)
• Magpies: a tiding
• Nightingales: a watch
• Owls: a parliament
• Parrots: a company or a pandemonium
• Partridges (or Grouse or Ptarmigan): a covey
• Peacocks: an ostentation
• Pelicans: a pod
• Penguins: a parcel
• Pheasants: a nye (on the ground) or a bouquet (when flushed)
• Pigeons: a kit
• Plovers: a congregation or a wing (in flight)
• Rooks: a building
• Raptors: a cauldron
• Ravens: an unkindness
• Snipes: a walk or a wisp
• Sparrows: a host

A “siege” of great blue herons fishes in the waters of a Wisconsin river. ©John T. Andrews

• Starlings: a murmuration
• Storks: a muster
• Swans: a whiteness
• Teal: a spring
• Widgeons: a trip
• Woodcocks: a fall
• Woodpeckers: a descent

Fish

• Herring: an army
• Sharks: a shiver
• Trout: a hover

Invertebrates

• Bees: a drift, an erst, a hive or a swarm
• Butterflies: a kaleidoscope, a rabble or a swarm

Butterflies not only come in an array of colors, but in a “kaleidoscope,” as this multitude of monarchs is called. ©Astrid Frisch

• Caterpillars: an army
• Clams: a bed
• Crabs: a consortium
• Cockroaches: an intrusion
• Flies: a business
• Jellyfish: a fluther or a smack
• Lobsters: a risk
• Oysters: a bed
• Snails: a hood
• Squid: an audience

Mammals and marsupials

• Apes: a shrewdness
• Badgers: a cete
• Bears: a sloth or sleuth
• Buffalo: an obstinacy
• Donkeys: a pace
• Elephants: a parade
• Elk: a gang
• Ferrets: a business
• Foxes: a skulk
• Giraffes: a tower
• Goats: a tribe or a trip
• Gorillas: a band
• Hares: a down, a drove, a flick, a husk or a warren
• Hippopotamuses: a bloat

Appropriately, perhaps, in tandem these hippos make a “bloat.” ©Eric Rock

• Horses: a harras or a rag (for colts)
• Hyenas: a cackle
• Jaguars: a shadow
• Kangaroos: a troop or mob
• Lemurs: a conspiracy
• Leopards: a leap
• Lions: a pride or a sawt
• Martens: a richesse
• Moles: a labour
• Monkeys: a troop
• Mules: a barren
• Otters: a romp

While most of us have heard of a “pride” of lions, many of us don’t realize in the plural they are also a “sawt.” ©Eric Rock

• Porcupines: a prickle
• Porpoises: a herd, a pod, a school or a turmoil
• Rhinoceroses: a crash
• Roe deer: a bevy
• Seals: a harem, a herd, a pod or a spring
• Squirrels: a dray or a scurry
• Swine: a drift or a sounder
• Tigers: an ambush or a streak
• Whales: a herd, a gam, a pod or a school
• Wild cats: a destruction
• Wolves: a pack or a rout
• Zebras: a dazzle or a zeal

After reading these lists, I hope you are inspired to get lyrical with your language. The next time you travel to Africa or visit the Galapagos Islands, don’t be hesitant to talk about the bloat of hippos, the crash of rhinos, the leap of leopards, the bale of sea turtles or the gulp of cormorants that you saw.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

3 Comments »

  1. Geoffrey Whitehead June 13, 2017 at 8:17 am - Reply

    Nice work Candice. Adding this to my writing references. Been spending time with a hover of trout…..

  2. Joan June 6, 2017 at 8:14 am - Reply

    Thanks for including “a drift of swine,” Candy. That’s one I always can remember.

    You know, given the high drama in some monkeys’ interactions, maybe they should have been called a “troupe” rather than a “troop”!

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