Sometimes, the best name for an animal is a combination of what it is and what it isn't, but still resembles. It's not necessarily that we're being lazy or lack creativity for new names -- it's just that every so often, what works best is making one species the descriptor for another -- either for how it looks, what it eats, or how it behaves.
Take, for example, the rhinoceros beetle pictured above. I mean, isn't it more intriguing to call it such, rather than, say giant-horned beetle? Boring! It really does resemble a rhino, after all, and even uses its horn to spar rival beetles. Rhinos are well-known enough that it makes sense to use that species to describe the features of this beetle species.
We humans love to do this as a naming strategy because there are dozens upon dozens of animals that are named after another species. Here are eleven more of our favorites.
The bat falcon is named not because it resembles a bat but because that is its primary prey item. These speedy and agile birds can snatch bats from mid-air. Females primarily hunt bats and small birds (sometimes even hummingbirds) while the smaller males primarily hunt large insects like grasshoppers and moths. As it sits on high perches scanning for prey, the bat falcon is a bat's worst nightmare.
Photo:Mikhail Blajenov /Shutterstock
Three guesses as to how this animal got its name. It seems like if you are a species with a big nose, there's a fair chance you're going to be named after an elephant. But this name doesn't only apply to their longish snouts. There are several species of elephant shrew, which may have a more concrete reason to be named after the more famous pachyderms. While elephant shrews are still classified as Insectivora, new evidence shows that they might actually need to be moved to the superorder Afrotheria, which would lump elephant shrews in with their namesake, as well as with hyraxes, aardvarks, tenrecs and several other species.
The bee hummingbird is the smallest living bird, growing to a length of only about 2-2.4 inches (including beak and tail) and weigh less than a penny! They can easily perch on the eraser of a pencil. There is little mystery in how this miniscule bird got its name, as it buzzes around barely bigger than a bee. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, the species has become increasingly rare.
Photo:D. Kucharski K. Kucharska/Shutterstock
Mole crickets are named for the shovel-like forelimbs that not only help them burrow like moles, but even look surprisingly like the forelimbs and paws of moles themselves, right down the the outward-facing angle and “claws” on the ends. They’re powerful diggers, much to the chagrin of folks trying to keep a tidy garden or lawn since these little insects can do quite a bit of damage. People in East Asia have a solution -- they eat them. Nothing like turning a pest into a protein source!
Photo:Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock
Much like how species with long noses have a descent chance of being named after elephants, species with spots have a descent chance of being named after leopards. Not cheetahs, or jaguars who also have spots, but leopards. There are 14 species of leopard frog but you might be most familiar with the Northern leopard frog, which is the species you likely dissected in junior high science class. They’re one of the most common species used in medical research for everything from cancer cures to neurology.
Photo:Ivan Kuzmin /Shutterstock
Camel spiders go by many names, including wind scorpions, sun spiders, red romans, beard cutters, and solifuges. There are more than 1,000 species, and while they have a body similar in shape to a spider and are in the class Arachnida, they aren’t actually spiders. Nor are they scorpions for that matter. Looking sort of like a spider at least explains part of one of their common names. The other part stems from a myth that they feast on camel stomachs. The myth probably started because this species seeks out shade, including shade made by camels — and by people. But if you don’t want a camel spider resting in your shadow, don’t bother running away. It’ll chase your shadow and can run as fast as 10 miles per hour. Sorry for the nightmares you’ll have after reading that…
Sometimes mistaken for chipmunks, antelope squirrels are small ground squirrels that are typically found in arid and desert habitats. Just why they’re named antelope squirrels, we aren’t quite sure. They can make some amazing spring-loaded leaps as they dart around looking for food, but not necessarily more so than many other species of squirrel. Whatever the reason for being named antelope squirrels, they’re awfully cute, don’t you think?
Like the elephant shrew, elephant seals get their name for obvious reasons. The extra large proboscis of the males serves two purposes. One is that it helps males to make exceptionally loud roars, which goes a long way to strike fear in the hearts of rival males during breeding season. The second is that for both males and females, the longer nose acts as a “rebreather” by absorbing moisture from each exhalation and helping to keep the seal hydrated when they are hauled out for months at a time during breeding a pupping season.
Photo:Liew Weng Keong /Shutterstock
This little insect gets its name from a creature that also has an exceptionally long neck. While the necks of these weevils are quite long, those of the males are actually two to three times longer than the necks of females. The uniquely shaped body of this weevil species actually serves a purpose. Predictably, males use their long necks for fighting while females use their long necks to assist in creating a nest from a rolled leaf in which she lays her egg.
You may know the skunk bear by its more common name, the wolverine. But the wolverine is called skunk bear by Native Americans for good reason. Like many other species in the mustelid family, the wolverine has anal scent glands that it uses for marking territory or getting the attention of potential mates. However, it’s not a pleasant odor! Hence, the tough, aggressive and lumbering creature gets the nickname skunk bear.
A mouse that has a werewolf's howl and can withstand the bites of centipedes and stings of scorpions? Yes, it actually exists! Like the bat falcon, this amazing little mighty mouse is named after its preferred prey. Rather than going for seeds like its cousins, the species is primarily an insectivore dining on grasshoppers as well as scorpions and snakes -- and even other mice. It has to rank way up there as the weirdest, least-mouse-like mouse out there!
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