Title Recall: 10 Creatures with Doubly Descriptive Names

From Horseflies to Bull Elephant Seals and more, an abundance of animals bear the burden of doubly descriptive names. Does being twice-blessed in the naming department add depth to their description or merely sow confusion among those who would appreciate them? The animals aren’t saying so it’s up to us to decide.


(images via: TAMU, Luke Is Digging, Permatreat and Wikipedia)

There are over 4,500 species of Horse Flies and they can be found anywhere on Earth except for the hottest deserts and coldest polar regions. Horse flies are big; well over an inch (25mm) long in many cases. Their bites can be very painful as they use their sharp, knife-like mandibles to slice open skin and draw blood. Why “horse flies”? Perhaps because of their large size, “as big as a horse”.

(image via: What’s That Bug?)

Only female horse flies bite, and they do indeed bite horses should the opportunity present itself. In some parts of Canada, the insects are dubbed Bulldog Flies as a nod to both their intimidating size, growling buzz when in flight and their dogged persistence when in search of a blood meal.

Mantis Shrimp

(images via: Aquatic Animals, eHow and British Marine Life Study Society)

“It’s a Mantis, it’s a Shrimp, it’s a…” actually, Mantis Shrimps are neither mantises nor shrimps… a double DOHse of name-dropping if there ever was! These reclusive, poorly understood creatures are actually Stomatopods, marine crustaceans that are related to lobsters and shrimp. Their claws are used to spear or stun prey, the former method utilizing wickedly barbed folding claws that to some eyes look rather Praying Mantis-like.

(image via: Rapture of the Deep)

Mantis Shrimp can grow up to 15 inches (38cm) in length but size isn’t their weapon, their stunning claws are. That’s “stunning” as a verb, not a mark of beauty: mantis shrimps can snap their claws as quick as a .22 caliber bullet in flight, producing a shock wave that’s been known to shatter glass aquarium walls. Mantis Shrimp are also notable for their stalked eyes, believed to be the most complex ocular sensors in the entire animal kingdom.

Wolf Fish

(images via: Deep Down, Annabel Chaffer and AT S, AM B)

There are five separate species of wolf fish (or wolffish), with the Atlantic Wolf Fish (Anarhichas Lupus) being the only one that incorporates Lupus, the Latin term for “wolf”, into its taxonomic name. Though fearsome to look at, wolf fish are actually quite shy and pose no threat to humans. Clams and other bottom-feeders DO need to worry, however, as the wolf fish’s wolfish teeth are designed to pierce, puncture and crush shellfish shells. Maybe the wolf fish need to worry too, as Annabel Chaffer (“Where the Cognoscenti love to shop”) is selling Spotted Wolf Fish Leather Wallets. That bites.

(image via: Science Daily)

Wolf fish are rarely seen in the flesh as they are deep-water dwellers and most divers never visit their stomping grounds 2,000 feet (600 meters) below sea level. Just as well… wolf fish have been known to grow as much as 6.6 feet (2.2 meters) in length.


(images via: We Saw That, Fat Finch, Alan Lenk and Birdorable)

Doubtless you’ve watched nature programs in which birds casually ride on the backs of cattle, plucking and parasites they might find. Those aren’t Cowbirds, regardless of that being a better name than “Cattle Egret”. Cowbirds are insect eaters, however, and they have been known to shadow herds of herbivores, and one alternate name for the Brown-headed Cowbird is the Buffalo Bird.

(image via: BirdForum)

Cowbirds are the New World counterpart to the Cuckoo in that both birds lay their eggs in other bird species’ nests, leaving the feeding duties to the foster parents. The Brown-headed Cowbird is the best-known of the five recognized Cowbird species, with the the others being the Shiny Cowbird (above), the Giant Cowbird, the Bronzed Cowbird and the Screaming Cowbird. “Great screaming cowbirds, Batman!”… sorry, couldn’t resist.

Kangaroo Rat

(images via: ElyWoody/Panoramio, Animals, Animals, Animals and Science Photo Library)

Kangaroo Rats are big-eyed, long-tailed rodents but they are not specifically rats. They hop around much like kangaroos but they’re native to western North America, not Australia. That said, Kangaroo Rats do have fur-lined pouches – not for their young, but for storing the seeds the find on food-gathering missions.

(image via: Arkive)

There are 19 known species of Kangaroo Rat and all have six toes. There are also two related species of Kangaroo Mice, though a fuller description of them must wait for a follow-up post on double-named creatures.

Raccoon Dog

(images via: Kathy Pippig Harris)

Raccoon Dogs look a lot like those masked woodland critters familiar to North American suburbanites but their roots are firmly in the Dog family. There are major differences between Raccoon Dogs and man’s best friend, however. Raccoon Dogs enjoy a mixed diet of meat and vegetables, whereas your dog only wants steak.

(image via: FactZoo)

Raccoon Dogs are native to East Asia; in Japan they’re known as “tanuki”. They are also hunted and trapped for their fur… that new parka of yours with the fur-rimmed hood? Uh huh, likely Raccoon Dog. In the wild, these curious creatures hibernate during cold winters, and are the only Canids to do so.

Elephant Seal

(images via: Point Reyes Weekend, Ugly Animals and WonderClub)

If the name “Elephant Seal” already combines two different animal names, consider the dominant males: yes, Bull Elephant Seals. How’s that for a triple play on words? Elephant Seals are divided into northern and southern species with the southerners generally being larger in size… must be all that fried food.

(image via: Grant Dixon Photography)

Not all Elephant Seals are elephantine, specifically referring to the trunklike proboscis exclusive to males. Their floppy, fleshy noses assist the males in roaring but also serve a more important purpose: they help recover moisture from the seal’s breathing. During the mating season, high-ranking males rarely leave the beach to eat as they’re occupied in guarding their harems. They run a real risk of dehydration – to maintain all those brides, they’ve gotta pay through the nose.


(images via: TEAK, Gina Blogs All About It, My [Confined] Space and Birdorable)

The Bearcat is a smallish, forest-dwelling mammal which is neither bear nor cat tough it appears superficially cat-like. Perhaps everyone would be better off (and less confused) if we’d just settle on its native Southeast Asian name: the Binturong.

(image via: Zooborns)

Bearcats are closely related to civets and genets though they’re larger than members of both of those groups. If you’ve been wondering why American companies Stutz and Grumman would name their iconic products (cars and fighter planes, respectively) after an unremarkable Asiatic arboreal mammal, stop wondering: traditional use of the term “bearcat” references the much more fearsome Mountain Lion.

Mule Deer

(images via: FMCA, American West Tours, Inkity and Visual Paradox)

Mule Deer, one of the largest species of deer, are generally found west of the Missouri River while its White-tailed Deer cousins are dominant to the east. The species gets its name from its large, long, mule-like ears. Yeehaw… or should that be, “Hee Haw!”

(image via: South Dakota Birds)

Mule Deer have black-tipped tails and their antlers divide by forking… and I mean that in a good way. Mule Deer are rarely, if ever, found in Gary, Indiana, while Gary Mule Deer has probably played comedy clubs in that city a number of times. Coincidence? I think not!

Minke Whale

(images via: Treehugger, It’s Nature, ScienceBlogs and Clatko)

Mention “Minke Whale” to someone and they might imagine a 35ft long sea creature covered snout to fluke with a rich, luxurious pelt… a colossal “sea beaver”, as it were. Instigate such a rumor back in the 1850s and you’d send the world’s whaling/trapping nations into a collective fur-gasm – and it’s very likely Minke Whales would be extinct today.

(image via: Seattle PI)

Of course, Minke Whales have about as much fur as actual Minks have blubber. These smaller relatives of the mighty Blue Whale (which IS blue, or at least blue-ish) are one of the most populous whale species and are listed by the IUCN as being of “least concern”. By the way, “least concern” means “open season” in Japanese.

(image via: CRISP Graphic Design)

All of these animals – one might even say, all of THE animals – existed long before humans came along to name them. While the actual creatures are anything but chimaeric, it’s amusing to consider the reasoning of those who bestowed these somewhat schizoid names.