The African savannah is home to a huge variety of wildlife species. With this much diversity, it’s not surprising that we’ve come up with some equally diverse and interesting words to describe them, and among the most interesting of these are the terms (collective nouns) we use to describe groups of wild animals. These are some of our favourites!
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Collective nouns are great words because, in the first place, they’re quite useful. Using one of these words is a quick and easy way of describing a sighting of animals – listeners will know immediately that you’re not talking about an individual, but a group of wild animals.
But there’s something more to these words than just utility or trivia! They’re also amazingly descriptive. These words tell us something about the animals in question – they describe their shape or form or character in some way, giving us an insight into their natures, personalities or behaviours. Take giraffe for example: “a tower” is their collective noun, and we can’t think of a better way to describe a group of these gangly giants, towering as they do above all but the tallest trees around them.
Africa does not disappoint when it comes to collective nouns. The Big Five all have their own unique names, and what better place to start? Buffalo are called a ‘herd’, a ‘gang’, or, best of all, an ‘obstinacy’. Elephants are also called a ‘herd’ (as are many other herbivores), in addition to which they are also known as a ‘memory’.
Lions in a group are called a ‘pride’, which describes these majestic animals very well indeed, while leopards in a group (which is quite rare to see by the way) are called a ‘leap’. This leaves us with rhinos, which are some of Africa’s most vulnerable wild animals and often the target, sadly, of illegal wildlife poachers. They are also beautiful and spectacular to see in person; so large and so different from any other African wildlife species. Not surprisingly, therefore, they have their own special collective noun: a ‘crash’, which is perfectly evocative of these lumbering, powerful giants thundering through the bush.
Crocodiles are another of our favourites – they’re known collectively as a ‘bask’ or a ‘float’. Then we have zebras with another perfectly descriptive collective noun – a ‘dazzle’. Hyenas have two collective nouns. They are normally called a ‘clan’ but the alternative term, a ‘cackle’ perfectly captures the sound and spirit of these animals. A group of aardvark (another extraordinarily rare sighting – seeing just one of these is special enough) is called an ‘armory’, while a group of hippopotamus basking in the sun are called a ‘bloat’! Wild dog are known as a ‘pack’, and baboons are called a ‘troop’. Possibly the best collective noun of all though must be for the wildebeest – collectively known as an ‘improbability’.
Vultures rank among the most vulnerable of Africa’s large birds, with vulture species ranging from threatened to critically endangered. Interestingly enough, vultures are noteworthy for the fact that they have a very large number of collective nouns, which vary according to their behaviour at any given time!
Vultures circling overhead, riding thermals as they search for carcasses are called a ‘kettle’. A group of vultures perched in a tree, meanwhile, are called a ‘committee’, a ‘venue’ or even a ‘volt’. Then, when the vultures descend to the ground to feed on a carcass they’re called a ‘wake’ which we think is beautifully descriptive. This makes a total of five collective nouns for a single type of animal, which is quite exceptional!
Some of our other favourite collective nouns for birds include flamingoes – which together are called a ‘flamboyance’. Then we have a ‘parliament’ of owls; a ‘confusion’ of guineafowl; and a ‘convocation’ of eagles. One last extra-special collective noun for a group of birds is also possibly the best of them all: a group of parrots is called a ‘pandemonium’.
There’s more to African wildlife than birds and large mammals, of course, and some of Africa’s smaller and lesser known animals have also got some interesting collective nouns. Take mosquitoes for example, called a ‘swarm’, which is a little boring, but they can also be called a ‘scourge’, which is much more descriptive of the effect that large numbers of these tiny creatures can have – particularly if you’re trying to sleep!
A group of lizards is actually called a ‘lounge’ – can you believe it? And then we have squirrels, which are very fittingly called a ‘scurry’! Another quite wonderful collective noun is the one used to describe a group of porcupines – they’re called a ‘prickle’. Bats can either be called a ‘colony’, or, more fittingly a ‘cloud’.
Africa’s creepy-crawlies have some excellent collective nouns as well. Scorpions are either a ‘bed’ or a ‘nest’, while spiders can either be called a ‘cluster’ or a ‘clutter’. Snakes have five collective nouns – they’re either a ‘den’, a ‘nest’, a ‘pit’ (presumably only when they’re actually in a pit, which is less common than you may think), a ‘bed’, or ‘knot’. Locusts, unsurprisingly, are called a ‘plague’ whenever they’re found together. And let’s not forget the almost universally despised cockroach – these insects are collectively known as an ‘intrusion’. It just doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
Collective Nouns Quiz
The best way to put your new-found knowledge of collective nouns into practice is by spending some time in the field with real experts in conservation. If you’re not sure which conservation project is right for you, then get in touch with us and we’ll help you decide.