Rebecca O'Connell (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (iStock)

15 Animals With Misleading Names

Rebecca O'Connell (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (iStock)

The animal kingdom is filled with a vast collection of wonderful creatures—perhaps too many for any hopeful zoologist to commit to memory. But doing so would be much easier if so many species didn't have such misleading names! With dolphins masquerading as whales, lizards as toads, and marsupials as bears, it can be tough to keep track of which animals are which. Here’s a rundown of some of the worst offenders in the taxonomical misnomer game.


Officially known as the binturong, this scruffy resident of the Southeast Asian treetops sports almost no relation to the bear or the cat. Its closest living relatives are fellow branch-dwelling mammals like the civet and the genet. The little guy’s genus name Arctictis translates to “bear weasel,” which is also rather inaccurate.


Though not an eel at all, the critter in question has gained a monopoly on our connotations with the word. In fact, the electric eel is a type of knifefish (the common term for the order Gymnotiformes), and only earned its name due to the snakelike appearance it shares with the eel. Unlike true eels, the electric eel breathes air, lays its eggs in fresh (not ocean) water, and has no teeth or dorsal fin.


There’s a reason that the bronze-furred, bushy-tailed, catlike red panda looks almost nothing like its much larger black-and-white namesake: They’re not even remotely related. The Himalayan omnivore occupies its own family (Ailuridae), and its closest relatives are the weasel, raccoon, and skunk.

Surprisingly enough, these auburn fluff balls should not be condemned for swiping the panda name from the grayscale bears of China, but the other way around. The red panda pioneered the moniker—which is believed to derive from the Nepali word “ponya,” which would have referred to the shape of the animal’s wrists or feet—following its original classification in the 1800s. It wasn’t until early in the 20th century that the giant panda, newly (and incorrectly) assumed to be a relative of the former, borrowed the handle … and has kept a tight hold on it ever since.


Although it may boast hierarchal authority over the cobra race, the so-called king is actually a different type of snake altogether. A king cobra is marked by a much narrower hood than that for which its cobra colleagues are known. Other differences include body size, color, scale makeup (especially around the face), diet, reproductive patterns, habitat, and venom content and toxicity.


The North American native is close enough in relation to your common goat to forgive this particular infraction. But all true goats, wild and domesticated, commune under the genus Capra, whereas the so-called mountain goat is the sole living species belonging to the genus Oreamnos.


Here’s one species that can’t catch a break. Known both as the killer whale and the blackfish, the Orcinus orca is neither a whale nor a fish, but a dolphin (and the world’s largest dolphin at that). A paramount factor that distinguishes Shamu and company as dolphins rather than whales: teeth.


Despite its recent outburst of Internet notability, this feisty animal is still victim to widespread misrepresentation as a badger. Upon original discovery, this native of Africa and Southern Asia was grouped among the badger subfamily Melinae due to superficial similarities. It has since been relocated to its own subfamily (Mellivorinae), and is now considered far closer in relation to the marten than to the badger.


This especially unsightly sea dweller is not a shrimp, not a mantis, and not a locust (as its Assyrian nickname, the locust shrimp, might suggest), but a unique order of marine crustacean: Stomatopoda. True shrimp, lobster, and crab belong to the Decapoda order. Characteristics that distinguish the mantis shrimp from other crustaceans include a 50-miles-per-hour punch and an incredibly complex optical makeup, allowing for a more sophisticated comprehension of color than any other known animal.


Blame Buffalo Bill Cody, or at least whoever gave him that nickname, for this one. There is in truth no such thing as an American buffalo, as the furry beast that roamed the frontier of our very own Old West was actually a bison. Buffalo hail naturally from Central and Southern Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and certain parts of Italy, and are marked by much larger horns and leaner bodies than the American bison.


Let’s get the real disappointment out of the way first: This thing can’t fly. Much like the flying squirrel, it is relegated to a life of gliding and swooping, never able to take to the wild blue yonder in earnest. Furthermore, the flying lemur is not really a lemur, but a completely separate and biologically distant—albeit admittedly similar looking—creature occupying its own order (Dermoptera) and family (Cynocephalidae). The lemur, on the other hand, is one of many animals that fall under the primate umbrella, making it a closer cousin to you than to this winged imposter.


While this Brazilian canine is not too distant a relative to the wolf we’re all familiar with, it prides itself on its very own genus, Chrysocyon (as opposed to the wolf’s Canis). The maned wolf is a closer relative to fellow South Americans like the forest fox (or crab-eating fox) and the bush dog.


If your primary association with this desert denizen is the occasional flustered exclamation of one Yosemite Sam, then you might not realize that the creature in question is no toad at all, nor even a frog. It’s actually a lizard, and one (appropriately) covered in sharp horns, spines, and scales. The diminutive reptile does sport the flat face and stout body you’d more likely find on a toad than a lizard, explaining its confused nomenclature. But nothing is more baffling than its propensity to shoot blood from its eyes as a means of defense.


The best known offender is also one of the most egregious. Many people are well aware that Australia’s sleepy, eucalyptus-chomping marsupial is not in fact a bear, but the taxonomical distance between the koala and the common bear is downright tremendous—about the only thing the two creatures have in common is the fact that they’re both mammals. The koala is the only extant animal housed under the Phascolarctidae family, but calls its fellow Aussie the wombat its closest living relative.


One of the only creatures whose name is even more zoologically inaccurate than the koala bear’s is the jellyfish, which isn’t even in the same phylum (and that’s as far back as you can go without leaving the animal kingdom) as the fish. Despite being one of an impressive 10,000 sea creatures living under the Cnidaria phylum, the pesky beach stinger is still branded with the all-purpose, ever-oppressive “fish” label. And it’s not the only one.

Other creatures wrongly called fish are starfish and cuttlefish, each one a member of a phylum (Echinodermata and Mullosca, respectively) altogether distinct from that of all fish.

Taxonomically speaking, fish are actually more closely related to humans than they are to either jellyfish or starfish—fish and humans both belong to the phylum Chordata, along with all other mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians … but not jellyfish, starfish, or cuttlefish!


The mother of them all: a frog that goes by the name “chicken.” This endangered amphibian lives only in the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Montserrat, where it is hunted and eaten regularly by the locals thereof. Its popularity as a culinary dish is what earned it its befuddling alias.

Sploot 101: 12 Animal Slang Words Every Pet Parent Should Know

For centuries, dogs were dogs and cats were cats. They did things like bark and drink water and lay down—actions that pet parents didn’t need a translator to understand.

Then the internet arrived. Scroll through the countless Facebook groups and Twitter accounts dedicated to sharing cute animal pictures and you’ll quickly see that dogs don’t have snouts, they have snoots, and cats come in a colorful assortment of shapes and sizes ranging from smol to floof.

Pet meme language has been around long enough to start leaking into everyday conversation. If you're a pet owner (or lover) who doesn’t want to be out of the loop, here are the terms you need to know.


You know your pet is fully relaxed when they’re doing a sploot. Like a split but for the whole body, a sploot occurs when a dog or cat stretches so their bellies are flat on the ground and their back legs are pointing behind them. The amusing pose may be a way for them to take advantage of the cool ground on a hot day, or just to feel a satisfying stretch in their hip flexors. Corgis are famous for the sploot, but any quadruped can do it if they’re flexible enough.


Person holding Marnie the dog.
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for ASPCA

Unlike most items on this list, the word derp isn’t limited to cats and dogs. It can also be a stand-in for such expressions of stupidity as “duh” or “dur.” In recent years the term has become associated with clumsy, clueless, or silly-looking cats and dogs. A pet with a tongue perpetually hanging out of its mouth, like Marnie or Lil Bub, is textbook derpy.


Cat laying on desk chair.
PoppetCloset, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you’ve ever caught a cat or dog poking the tip of its tongue past its front teeth, you’ve seen a blep in action. Unlike a derpy tongue, a blep is subtle and often gone as quickly as it appears. Animal experts aren’t entirely sure why pets blep, but in cats it may have something to do with the Flehmen response, in which they use their tongues to “smell” the air.


Mlems and bleps, though very closely related, aren’t exactly the same. While blep is a passive state of being, mlem is active. It’s what happens when a pet flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, whether to slurp up water, taste food, or just lick the air in a derpy fashion. Dogs and cats do it, of course, but reptiles have also been known to mlem.


Very fluffy cat.
J. Sibiga Photography, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some pets barely have any fur, and others have coats so voluminous that hair appears to make up most of their bodyweight. Dogs and cats in the latter group are known as floofs. Floofy animals will famously leave a wake of fur wherever they sit and can squeeze through tight spaces despite their enormous mass. Samoyeds, Pomeranians, and Persian cats are all prime examples of floofs.


Dog outside barking.

According to some corners of the internet, dogs don’t bark, they bork. Listen carefully next time you’re around a vocal doggo and you won’t be able to unhear it.


Shiba inu smiling up at the camera.

Speaking of doggos: This word isn’t hard to decode. Every dog—regardless of size, floofiness, or derpiness—can be a doggo. If you’re willing to get creative, the word can even be applied to non-dog animals like fennec foxes (special doggos) or seals (water doggos). The usage of doggo saw a spike in 2016 thanks to the internet and by the end of 2017 it was listed as one of Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching.”


Tiny kitten in grass.

Some pets are so adorably, unbearably tiny that using proper English to describe them just doesn’t cut it. Not every small pet is smol: To earn the label, a cat or dog (or kitten or puppy) must excel in both the tiny and cute departments. A pet that’s truly smol is likely to induce excited squees from everyone around it.


Hands holding a puppy.

Like doggo, pupper is self-explanatory: It can be used in place of the word puppy, but if you want to use it to describe a fully-grown doggo who’s particularly smol and cute, you can probably get away with it.

10. BOOF

We’ve already established that doggos go bork, but that’s not the only sound they make. A low, deep bark—perhaps from a dog that can’t decide if it wants to expend its energy on a full bark—is best described as a boof. Consider a boof a warning bark before the real thing.


Dog noses poking out beneath blanket.

Snoot was already a dictionary-official synonym for nose by the time dog meme culture took the internet by storm. But while snoot is rarely used to describe human faces today, it’s quickly becoming the preferred term for pet snouts. There’s even a wholesome viral challenge dedicated to dogs poking their snoots through their owners' hands.

12. BOOP

Have you ever seen a dog snoot so cute you just had to reach out and tap it? And when you did, was your action accompanied by an involuntary “boop” sound? This urge is so universal that boop is now its own verb. Humans aren’t the only ones who can boop: Search the word on YouTube and treat yourself to hours of dogs, cats, and other animals exchanging the love tap.

Carnivorous Hammerhead Flatworms Are Invading France

It’s no hammerhead shark, but the hammerhead flatworm has become a real menace in France. Or at least a menace to earthworms, as Earther reports.

Believed to be an invasive species from Asia, the hammerhead flatworm was only recently recorded in France, as is documented in a new study (titled "Giant worms chez moi!") published in the journal PeerJ. However, based on reports, photographs, and videos sent in by citizens across the country, scientists determined the pests have gone undetected for nearly 20 years. This came as a shock, especially because the worms can measure more than a foot in length.

In recent years, three species of the carnivorous worm have quietly taken over French gardens and have even been spotted in metropolitan areas. Some species immobolize their prey with tetrodotoxin, the same powerful neurotoxin that makes pufferfish so poisonous. The worms secrete digestive enzymes, allowing them to dissolve earthworms and slugs their size.

Jean-Lou Justine, co-author of the study, says their eating habits are a concern. "Earthworms are a major component of the soil biomass and a very important element in the ecology of soils," Justine tells Earther. "Any predator which can diminish the populations of earthworms is thus a threat to soil ecology."

Archie Murchie, an entomologist who was not involved in the study, told The Washington Post that the worms will continue to spread in step with global trade. The worms were also seen in overseas French territories, including one worm with a blue-green hue that is probably a newly detected species, Murchie tells the newspaper.

[h/t Earther]


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