What’s in a name when it comes to groups of animals?

One might find a shrewdness of apes, a congress of baboons, or an obstinacy of bison

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Geoff CarpentierOften we struggle to name a group of animals when we see several feeding or playing together: Was that a bunch of birds or a flock of felines or a gambit of gnus?

Actually, it’s none of those.

I decided to compile a list of as many names as I could find for as many animal gatherings as possible to satisfy my curiosity. Many of these are pretty mundane – herd, litter, group, flock, pack and colony, to name a few. But others are much more intriguing.

One might find a shrewdness of apes, a congress of baboons, a company of badgers, or an obstinacy of bison or buffalo, while camels come in trains.

A sloth of bears might surprise you. A dazzle or zeal of zebra might intrigue, as would a wisdom of wombats or a grind of whales.

An ambush of tigers might be expected as these are fierce stealth predators, but would you be afraid of a scurry of squirrels or a hurtle of sheep?

Cheetahs hunt in small groups, forming a coalition, but they would assuredly shy away from a parade of elephants or a tower of giraffes.

Gorillas might whoop it up with their buddies – until a cackle of hyenas comes calling, a crash of rhinos pass or a bloat of hippos waddle nearby.

elephants nature wildlife animals
A parade of elephants. Photo: Geoff Carpentier

A sawt of lions or a leap of leopards are certainly fearsome, but a mischief of mice can scare the mighty king!

A surfeit of skunks are smelly neighbours but they don’t hold a candle to a mischievous gaze of raccoons eyeing your garbage!

Click here to downloadA prickle of porcupines may be an issue for your dog, but they’ll likely never see a puggle of platypuses, a cartload of monkeys, an array of hedgehogs or a business of ferrets!

At home, we can enjoy a horde of hamsters or a kindle of kittens as we cuddle our little critters, while a rout of coyotes, a cowardice of curs or a skulk of foxes make us hold our pomp of Pekinese close to keep them safe.

In our expansive forests and fields, we can enjoy a richness of martens, a labour of moles, a rangale (whatever that is) of deer, a romp of otters, a husk of hares or a trace of rabbits. But we will never see a troop of kangaroos, a roll of armadillos, a coterie of prairie dogs, a turmoil of porpoises or a harem of seals.

On the farm, we can encounter a drove of cattle, a string of ponies, a trip of goats, a rake of colts, a span of mules, a drove of oxen and a drift of hogs – how exciting would that be?

bloat hippos nature wildlife animals
A bloat of hippos. Photo: Geoff Carpentier

But it’s the dogs and cats that garner the most names, as would be expected since they’re so entwined with our lives. The ever-faithful dog is known as a cry, a mute, a leash, a meek or a stable. Watch of out for a pounce, intrigue, nuisance, destruction or glaring of cats as our little felines wrap themselves around our legs for a cuddle.

So why do we do this? Why have so many bizarre names?

There’s no reason. Many are just whimsical, created to entertain.

Does it really matter if a bunch of crows are called a parliament?

Not really – but it’s fanciful and fun.

In future columns, I’ll share bird, fish, insect and sea critter names, so stay tuned you blush of boys and giggle of girls!

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff online at www.avocetnatureservices.com, on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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