Grammar Moses: Animal husbandry and you

Last week we were talking about shooting photos for a story about a family of foxes living in a Northwest suburban backyard. I made the point that it’s not often we’re able to use “vixen” and “raynard” in a news story.

Crickets. Nary a chuckle or a comeback.

Clearly, the female and male names for adult foxes aren’t on the tips of too many tongues, unless you are a hunter, a zoologist, a mountain lion or an eagle.

You all know by now that a group of crows is called a “murder” and one crow cawing to his friends is tantamount to a conspiracy to commit a murder, but what of the names of animals of a certain gender and age?

The world has a lot more baby animals than puppies, kittens, lambs, calves and chicks. But you won’t find any strong naming conventions or consistency here. I hope this scorecard helps for those times you want to talk with some authority on the living things around you. Let’s explore:

Baby animals

• Wolves and dogs belong to the same species, the dog being a domesticated version of the gray wolf. Yet a dog has pups and a wolf has cubs. Go figure.

• Baby spiders are spiderlings.

• Baby kangaroos are joeys. But so are baby koala bears, which you’d think would give birth to cubs. This might suggest a lack of imagination in Australia.

• Baby cows, whales, dolphins and camels are called calves.

• Both baby birds and baby alligators are called hatchlings.

• A baby mouse is a pinkie. That makes sense, because they are pink and no larger than a baby human’s pinkie.

• A baby rat is neither a pinkie nor a thumb but a pup.

• Big game cats don’t have kittens, they have cubs.

• Ducks have ducklings and geese have goslings, not gooslings.

• A baby fish is a fry, which must seem quite fatalistic for a young fish. Hard to believe this didn’t come up in “Finding Nemo.”

• A vixen (a female fox, if you’ll recall) gives birth to a kit, which is weird when you consider the fox is in the same family (canidae) as the wolf and dog — and not in the cats’ camp. An adult male fox is a raynard or, to further confuse matters, a dog.

• Baby gorillas are called infants, but baby apes are called babies. Gorillas are the largest of the apes.

• Baby baboons are also called infants. But baboons are monkeys, not apes.

• A baby oyster is a spat, which is what I would have done to one had I put it in my mouth.

• A baby turkey is a poult. Looks to me like a turkey earns its suffix with age.

• When you order squab at a restaurant, you’re asking for a baby pigeon. Don’t worry, even though baby doves are called squabs, you’re eating a pigeon. But … you’re eating a pigeon!

• A baby mosquito is a tumbler. Perhaps it’s because they’re not skilled flyers yet.

• A baby guinea pig is not a piglet but a pup.

• Deer give birth to fawns, but reindeer give birth to pups. Then again, so do sharks. I would suggest you not put them in contact with one another.


• Did you know that a jackass is a male ass? The female is a jenny. Come to think of it, my sister’s name is Jenny.

• A tomcat is actually a male of the species. A female is called a queen. Yes, it’s not exclusive to my house. It’s interesting, though, that jackasses and tomcats get so much bad press just for being male.

• Badgers are only distantly related to pigs, yet an adult is a boar and the female a sow.

• Even though alligators are cold blooded, the male is called a bull and the female a cow. And that certainly doesn’t jibe with the kids being called hatchlings.

• A “falcon” is a female falcon. A male falcon is a tiercel. Also, a Falcon is a Ford model, while a Tercel is a Toyota.

I’m sure this won’t help you remember, unless, of course, you have it laminated and put it in your wallet.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim’s book, “Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage,” at Write him at and put “Grammar Moses” in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.