Collective Nouns For Animals

Dec 5, 2020 | VOCABULARY

collective noun is a word that is used to define a group or collection of people, animals or things. For instance, in the phrase a herd of elephants, the word herd is a collective noun.

You probably know that a group of wolves is called a pack, or that a swarm is used to describe a group of bees, but there are other collective nouns for animals that are much less well-known, and frankly very strange, even to native speakers. Examples might include a cackle of hyenas, a shrewdness of apes, a murder of crows, a parliament of owls, or an unkindness of ravens.

So why are there so many congregations when we name the groups of animals? Where did these names derive from?

Some attribute most of the odd-sounding collective nouns to England’s hunting traditions which date back to medieval times. In hunters’ community, referring to the groups of specific animals, or particular formations of animals was so common that they got their unique names.

According to the BBC, however, a lady from 15th century England known as Julia Berners published a book called ‘The Book of Hawking, Hunting and Blasing of Arms’ in 1846. In the book she listed 165 collective nouns for groups of people and animals. Very little is known about her, but she is thought to be the earliest female author writing in the English language.

While I’m not sure which explanation is valid, I do realize that modern English falls heir to a fanciful repertoire of collective nouns that has never ceased to wow English language learners, me included.

So I’ve gathered a list of 28 groups of animals and their collective nouns – some animal groups can have more than one collective noun, and one collective noun might apply to several groupings.

The list below is by no means exhaustive, since I just pick out the animals that appear to be familiar to my students or my culture. One primary reason is I seek to breathe some practicality into this somehow-less-common topic, which might not appeal to the majority of readers.

In case you’re interested in quirkier names that are beyond the norm, kindly let me know and I can cover it in another post.

An army of caterpillars/ frogs

Whenever caterpillars gather in groups, they are formally called an army. Army is also used for frogs (i.e., an army of frogs).

A band of gorillas

Though a band of gorillas is generally more common, a troop of gorillas or a whoop of gorillas is also said.

A brood of chickens

Brood is also used for hens, who are mothers of chickens.

A clan of hyenas

While clan is the much more accepted term, there’s something appropriate about cackle (i.e., a cackle of hyenas). Cackle means to laugh in a loud or harsh way. Since hyenas always stay together and make noise, that’s really how spotted hyenas express anger, frustration, and warnings to stay away.

A caravan of camels

A vehicle driven by camels is known as a caravan. These are like a series of camels carrying passengers and goods in the desert areas.

A family of sardines  

In this case, family means a large grouping, rather than parents and children.

A flamboyance of flamingos

Kudos to the creator of this perfect term.

A parliament of owls

A group of owls is called a parliament. This could be because owls are typically considered to be quite intelligent and wise. In ancient Greek mythology, the owl was seen to accompany or represent Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

A pride of lions

Lions are at the top of the jungle food chain and we generally say lions are the king of the jungle. Pride reflects the characteristics of lions.

We see lions as proud and consider them as a pride of lions.

A scourge of mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are more commonly called a swarm, but a scourge sounds just as accurate.

A troop of monkeys

Troop means armed forces in general. Monkeys are always staying in groups, and sometimes they roam to our place as well. What’s special is, if you hurt one monkey by any means, it will bring its troop and attack on you like armed forces. 

There is actually no concrete guidance on how to know which collective nouns are used for which animal groups other than by memorizing them. That said, it might be useful to note that the collective noun assigned to a certain group can be as unique as the animals themselves and/ or highlight distinctive traits of that group.

Basic rules are:

Colony – Used for some insects (ants, termites), bats, penguins, and rabbits.

Flock – Used for all birds, regardless of whether in flight or on the ground. Also commonly used for sheep and goats.

Herd – Used mostly for grazing mammals (e.g., cattle, sheep, horses, goats) or hoofed animals (e.g., elephants, giraffes, deer, hippos).

Pod – Used for groups of sea mammals (e.g., dolphins, whales, seals).

School/ Shoal – Used for groups of fish.

Swarm – Used for flying insects (e.g., bees, butterflies, flies, grasshoppers).

A few others are specific to a particular sort of animal. For example:

Cloud – Used for bats.

Cluster/ Clutter – Used for spiders.

Pride – Used for lions.

Pack – Used for wolves and sometimes dogs.

Flamboyance/ Stand – Used for flamingos.

Squad – Used for squid.

If you find it hard to memorize these group nouns, that’s okay. Most of the terms that intimidate you are simply not in wide use, so you only need to learn a few. As a last resort, when in doubt, use something generic like bunchor even group.

I hope you’ve had fun reading this, and please share more collective nouns for groups of animals in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you as always.

Photo credits: Getty Images, Shutterstock


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