Animal collective nouns

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English has an interesting tradition of assigning fanciful collective nouns to groups of animals by species. We are all familiar with the terms a pride of lions, a pack of wolves, a gaggle of geese, an army of ants and a pod of whales, but there are many lesser known terms, such as a grist of bees, which is used to describe a swarm of bees, or a clattering of jackdaws, used to describe a flock of this species of bird.

The use of fanciful words to describe groups of animals of certain species seems to have become popular during the Middle Ages. Many animal collective nouns may be traced to a single source, The Book of St Albans published in 1486, which consists of essays about hawking, hunting and heraldry. The book was popular, reprinted over and over again for hundreds of years. Historicity and popular adaptation has given English the following animal collective nouns; some are more popular than others:

  • a shrewdness of apes
  • a flutter of butterflies
  • a murder of crows
  • a paddling of ducks
  • a memory of elephants
  • a cast of falcons
  • a business of flies
  • a tower of giraffes
  • a cloud of gnats
  • a band of gorillas
  • a husk of hares
  • a boil of hawks
  • a smack of jellyfish
  • a mob of kangaroos
  • a leap of leopards
  • a labor of moles
  • a romp of otters
  • a stare of owls
  • a pandemonium of parrots
  • a tuxedo of penguins
  • a plague of rats
  • an unkindness of ravens
  • a parliament of rooks
  • a shiver of sharks
  • a drove of sheep
  • a mustering of storks
  • a bevy of swans
  • a streak of tigers
  • a knot of toads
  • a descent of woodpeckers
  • a dazzle of zebras

Many animals have more than one imaginative collective noun attributed to them. For instance, a group of flamingos may be referred to as a colony, a regiment, a stand or a flamboyance. There are no “official” collective nouns for specific species, these terms are usually used for their poetic fancifulness.