Gaggles, prickles, herds and murders: Names and origins of Animal Groups

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CHARLOTTENC, April 10, 2014 – There are literally hundreds of interesting and exotic monikers for individual animal groups. We have all heard of flocks of sheep, gaggles of geese, herds of cows, coveys of quail and so on. But where did the names come from?

A nun who was the prioress of the Priory of St. Mary of Sopwell near St. Albams in Herfordshire, England gets credit for many of the names for which animals are classified. Julians Berners, also known as Barnes or Bernes, was known for her love of hunting, fishing and hawking during the 14th century. So much so that Berners wrote a book on fishing which is considered to be the first known book on the subject written by a woman.

Born in 1388, Berners is said to have written a book known as The Boke of Saint Albans which was published in 1486 after her death. While there is no record of anyone in the Berner’s family with the name of Juliana, it should also be noted that there is a gap in the records of the priory between the years of 1430 and 1480.

Since then, other variations of the etymology of animal names have been published, but it is probably true that most people would be surprised at some of the names given to these particular groups of animals. While most are characteristically logical when you hear them, the fun lies in learning precisely what they are.

For example, we are all familiar with herds, packs, broods, litters and swarms to mention a few. Each of these groups have multiple members which are generally easy to recall.

But what about the less familiar group names of the animal kingdom?

Did you know that there are “prickles” of porcupines, or “towers” of giraffes, or “bloats” of hippos?

Here are some of the more interesting, yet, when you think about them, easily identifiable animal group names; a “paddling” of ducks, a “cloud” of gnats, a “yoke” of oxen, a “flutter” of butterflies, a “crash’ of rhinoceros, a “cauldron” of bats, a “wisdom” of owls, a “scourge” of mosquitoes, a “cackle” of hyenas,  a “hood” of snails, an “intrusion” of cockroaches, a “rumba” of rattlesnakes, a “quiver” of cobras, a “parade” of elephants and, a personal favorite, a “squirm” of worms.

The list is seemingly endless. Some animals such as bees have several names attributed to them like “swarms”, “drifts”, “hives” and “ersts.” There are “droves” of horses, as well as “strings”, “studs” and “teams.” Whales swim in “schools”, “pods”, “herds” and “gams.”

Rounding out the lesson for the day, there are less conventional names that are equally colorful which, do, in their own way, arouse curiosity. Why are there “congregations” of alligators, “murders” of crows, “troops” of kangaroos and monkeys, “harems” of chimpanzees, “convocations” of eagles, “battalions” of falcons, “maelstroms” of salamanders, “consortiums” of crabs, “coalitions” of cheetahs, “audiences” of squid, “parliaments” of rooks, “conspiracies” of lemurs or “murmurations” of starlings?

Some animals travel in armies, mobs, gangs, casts, knots, bellows and, even, courts.

So the next time you talk about a flock of starlings or a herd of kangaroos and the like, you may want to think twice before speaking.

After all, it’s just a little food for thought next time you sit down to a big bowl cereal at breakfast with the “Snap, Crackle and Pop” of Rice Krispies.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (  

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod






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