Animal names range from the short and sweet “ox” to the famously long “humuhumunukunukuapua’a” (a Hawaiian fish). However, the great majority of animal names fall somewhere in the middle. Here are some awesome, seven-letter animals!
The breeding plumage of the male mallard is unmistakable. He sports a metallic green head, a white ring around his neck, blue and white wing patches, and a pair of curly tail feathers. The female is much duller, though she has wing patches. These ducks live in the wetlands of most tropical and temperate places in the world. Omnivores, they use their bills to dabble in the water and find aquatic plants and small animals. Mallards also come on land to graze in the grass.
Mallards are between 20 and 26 inches long with a 32-to-39-inch wingspan and weigh between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds. They are vocal ducks, and the female gives the loud, trademark “quack” that people associate with all ducks. Even when they’re not vocalizing mallard ducks make noise. When they take flight, their wings make a whistling sound.
The ducks pair up in the fall, and the female starts to lay eggs in the spring. She lays between eight and 13 eggs on alternate days and incubates them for a little less than a month. The ducklings are able to follow their mother and swim soon after they hatch. The male does not help with raising the chicks. Chicks fledge after 50 to 60 days and are ready to breed when they’re about a year old, though older ducks have more success in raising a brood.
The Asian or Water Buffalo
A buffalo can refer to the African buffalo, the Asian, or water buffalo, the American buffalo, or bison. The only one it seems even possible to domesticate is the water buffalo, which lives in southeast Asian countries such as Nepal and India. This huge beast can stand as high as 6 feet at the shoulder, be 9 feet long and weigh a ton. Its amazing, back-curved horns are the largest and have the widest spread of any wild cow. Both bulls and cows have horns, though the horns of the cows are a little smaller.
Like elephants, water buffalo live in female herds led by a matriarch. They’re called water buffalo because they live in wetlands. This allows them to wallow or submerge in water up to their nostrils and eyes during the hottest part of the day. The water buffalo was domesticated thousands of years ago and can now be found in Australia, Egypt, North America, the Balkans, and China. They’re also found in Italy, where their milk makes excellent mozzarella cheese.
The African Buffalo
The African buffalo is not only untamable but is known for its bad temper, lethality, and even vindictiveness. Considered one of the “big five” game animals in Africa, this beast can be up to 11 feet long and weigh 1.5 tons. African buffaloes are more robust than water buffaloes, and males are considerably larger than females. They also have a hump and a dewlap. Some subspecies of male African buffalo have a boss on their horns. Unlike Asian buffalo herds, African buffalo herds are either mixed sex herds or bachelor herds.
The American Buffalo
A native of North America, the bison, or American buffalo is notable for its distinctive look. Two things you’ll notice are the shoulder hump that makes the animal seem taller than it actually is and the dense, woolly coat that covers all but the back third of its body. It has a huge head with a shaggy beard, a wide, flat forehead, and short, turned-up horns. Like the Asian buffalo, the American buffalo forms herds of females and their young, while males form bachelor herds. Males are notably larger than females and can grow to 11 feet in length, 6.5 feet at the shoulder, and weigh as much as 2,200 pounds.
The wallaby is pretty much a small kangaroo that’s between 18 and 41 inches long with a 13- to 30-inch-long tail. Wallabies originated in New Guinea and Australia. There are several genera of wallaby, including Motamacropis, Petrogale, Lagostrophus, Thylogate, and Dorcopsis. One genus, Wallabia, has only one species, the swamp wallaby. Also called the black wallaby, this little animal lives in eastern Australia. It gets its name not because it lives in swamps but because of its swampy smell. Another name for this animal is stinker, or black stinker.
The swamp wallaby has the gray coat of most other wallabies and kangaroos, but it also has some black on the back and yellow or orange on the chest. It also has a quite unusual reproductive strategy in that females are able to be continually pregnant. That’s because she can conceive only days before she gives birth to another, more developed fetus. The wallaby’s sex chromosomes are also unusual. Though females have two X chromosomes like humans, males have an X chromosome and two, as opposed to one, Y chromosomes.
The sound of male crickets calling for mates on a warm evening is a comforting sound for many. These little insects live all around the world in temperate and tropical zones and belong in the superfamily Grylloidea. Crickets are usually brown, black, green or gray with large heads and cylindrical, somewhat flat bodies. Their wings are short, and many species can’t fly. Even crickets that can fly prefer to run or jump away from danger. Males rub their hard wing coverings together to produce their chirping sound. To hear those chirps, crickets have “ears” on their front legs.
Crickets have long antennae, and in some species, they are much longer than the insect’s body. They also have cerci, a pair of long, thin structures at the end of the cricket’s abdomen that extend beyond it. You can tell a female because she has a tube-like ovipositor through which she’ll lay eggs. Crickets also have three segments to their tarsi, which is the part of the leg right below the tibia. Their hind legs were also made for jumping.
Most crickets are famously nocturnal, and during the day they hide in cracks in the ground, under fallen leaves, or in stumps. Now and then they’ll enter a house, and in some cultures, they’re considered good luck. The diet of the cricket depends on its species, as some are herbivores, some scavenge, and some are carnivorous. Crickets are easy to raise in captivity, and people feed them to other pets such as lizards and snakes or use them as bait for fish.
Pompano fish are members of the Trachinotus genus and the Carangidae, or jack family. There are 21 species in the genus. Some, including the Florida pompano and the permit, are prized as game fish. These fish have bodies that are somewhat compressed while deep and short. Their backs are blue-gray or blue-green while their sides are silvery and their fins yellowish. Their anal and dorsal fins, which are very long in some species, are shaped like sickles and their tail fins are large and forked. They lack teeth, but their mouths are slightly inferior, which means they’re directly underneath their heads. A pompano can grow as long as 3.9 feet, though most are about 17 inches or so. Pompanos are found in warm seas all over the world.
Guyana’s national bird is a rather weird creature that’s found in the swamps and forests on the edges of bodies of water in northern South America. The only species in the Opisthocomus genus, which is the only genus found in the Opisthocomidae family, it nests in trees above the water and eats the leaves of many species of plants. Its hatchlings can swim, and if they feel threatened, they’ll drop into the water and swim away. Not only can the chicks swim, but they also have claws on their forelimbs. They use these claws to climb back up the tree and back to their nest. The claws disappear when the chick grows up.
The bird is about 26 inches long and has a heavy body, and a small head at the end of a long neck. Its naked face is blue, its eyes are maroon, and its head is topped with red spikes. The rest of the bird is brown, with areas that are buff, bronze, green, or reddish brown. It’s also loud, and its noises are emphasized by flapping and flailing. Sometimes the hoatzin gorges itself to the point where its crop bulges and makes it difficult for the bird to move around. The bird’s food is broken down by bacteria in its crop. The hoatzin is the only bird in which this happens, and chicks receive the fermenting bacteria when their parents regurgitate food for them. The fermentation causes the hoatzin to have a terrible odor, and one of its names is the stinkbird.
The octopus has become a subject of some fascination recently. Biologists have found that octopuses are very intelligent and have their own personalities. They are capable of play, tool use and have excellent memories. These skills are not modeled for them by their parents, since octopus mothers die soon after the babies hatch, and octopus fathers leave after mating. Yet, these marine creatures live no more than five years.
Octopuses range in size from the giant Pacific octopus, which has a 14-foot arm span and can weigh over 100 pounds to the star-sucker pygmy octopus, which is 1 inch long and weighs 0.04 ounces. Most octopuses are solitary and live in dens or the mud or sand on the ocean floor. They are predatory carnivores and eat crustaceans, fish, and mollusks. After they grab prey, they paralyze it with their venomous saliva before tearing it apart with their beaks.
The animal gets its name from its eight legs, which are at least semi-autonomous and don’t need the animal’s brain to operate. The octopus has a hard beak, but a body so soft and pliable that it can squeeze through what seem impossibly small spaces. Octopuses inhabit the world’s oceans, some in coral reefs and some in its depths. There are 300 species of octopus, some found recently like Grimpoteuthis greeni, a type of Dumbo octopus that was described in 2022.
Camouflage and Reproduction
Octopuses are capable of changing the color and even texture of their skin when they’re hunting, trying to avoid predators or communicating with another octopus. Sometimes they use warning coloration to fend off predators. If that doesn’t work, they can spray a cloud of ink, detach one of their arms, mimic a more dangerous animal, or swim away using their version of jet propulsion. Octopuses that lose an arm can grow it back.
A male octopus dies soon after mating, but the female lives a bit longer. She lays her eggs in strings in secluded spots and aerates them until they hatch. During that time, she doesn’t eat, even if it takes 10 months for the eggs to hatch. Indeed, after mating, the octopus’ digestive system breaks down thanks to the action of an optical gland found in its brain between its eyes, and it starves to death.
This insect whose song “ka-ty-did,” gave it its common name belongs to the Tettigoniidae family. Found everywhere save Antarctica, they range from tiny insects 0.20 inches long to relative behemoths that can be as long as 5.1 inches. Katydids are largely nocturnal, though they’re occasionally seen during the day, and they are often a bright leaf green. This color camouflages them among the trees where they live. You’ll hear their distinctive call on summer and autumn nights.
As with crickets, the katydid males call for mates by rubbing parts of their forewings together. Females chirp back. You can even tell the temperature, in Fahrenheit degrees, by listening to the trilling of a katydid. Count the number of chirps in a 15 second interval, then add 37 for the temperature. After mating, females attach eggs to the stems of plants. Katydids have incomplete metamorphosis, and in many species the babies are simply miniature versions of their parents. In other species, they mimic carnivorous insects, spiders, or even flowers to trick would be predators. Katydids need to molt about five times before they’re ready to mate.
Depending on the species, katydids can be herbivores or carnivorous predators that eat snails or other insects. Some are large enough to tackle small reptiles. Some katydids have spines on their limbs to hold their prey still. You can tell what the katydid eats by looking at its mouthparts. Handle the insect with care, because it can deliver a powerful bite.
Also called the gavial, the gharial is a crocodilian found in the Indian subcontinent. It differs from crocodiles and alligators by having a long, slender, olive-green body and a long, narrow snout. Males have a knot at the end of their snout that gives the animal its common name. It resembles a ghara, an earthen pot used to store drinking water. The gharial’s snout is not only long but contains over 100 teeth that interlock. This makes it ideal for catching fish.
The gharial is one of the longest of the crocodilians, with females ranging from 8.5 to nearly 15 feet long and males ranging from almost 10 feet to nearly 20 feet long. It spends most of its time in the water and only comes out to bask in the sun and build its nest. The gharial population crashed over the years due to habitat destruction, mining, and the depletion of the populations of fish the gharial eats. Right now, its conservation status is critically endangered.
Gharials mate in the winter, and females dig nests on the banks of the rivers where they live. There they lay between 20 and 95 eggs that hatch after two and a half to three months, before the start of the monsoon season. Females guard their nests and dig up the hatchlings when they hear their chirps under the sand. Interestingly, despite its size, power, and its many teeth, the gharial is not known to attack humans.
The elepaio, also written as ‘elepaio, is a little bird endemic to Hawaii, which means it’s found nowhere else. There are three species of this bird: the Kaua’i, the O’ahu, and the Hawai’i. Like the katydid, it gets its name from the sound of its song, which is a pretty, warbling e-le-PAI-o.
This bird eats insects, and either plucks them from the trees where it roosts or snatches them in midair. Despite its size, which is about 5.5 inches long with a weight of 0.42 to 0.63 ounces, it is a fearless and inquisitive bird. Its boldness probably helped it adapt to and even benefit from the presence of humans. Its song is said to be the first you’ll hear in the morning and the last you’ll hear at night. It has great cultural significance for native Hawaiians and is considered an incarnation of the goddess Lea, the patroness of canoe builders.
The elepaio’s breeding season is from January to June. Its nest is a little cup made of fern and held together with spider web silk, built in a shrub or low hanging tree branch.
What looks like a lizard but is not a lizard? It’s the tuatara, a reptile that’s only found in New Zealand. It’s not just the only member of its genus, but the only member of its entire order, Rhynchocephalia. Tuataras are very slow growing, and some scientists believe they can live to be 200 years old. Indeed, Henry, who lives in New Zealand’s Southland Museum, became a first-time dad when he was 111 years old. The mother was 80 years old. The female carries 12 to 17 eggs within her for about a year. When she finally lays them, they take 15 months to hatch. After this, it takes young tuataras at least 15 and most likely 20 years to reach breeding age.
Tuataras have olive brown skin with yellow spots, can grow to about 31 inches long, and weigh about 3 pounds. Males are larger than females. Tuataras have a keel of spines from their head to the end of their thick tail, which gives them their common name. Tuatara is Maori for “peaks on the back.”
Why Tuataras Aren’t Lizards
There are a few reasons why tuataras are not lizards. They have nictitating membranes in their eyes, which lizards don’t have. Though they can hear, they have neither an earhole, which lizards have nor an eardrum. Their spine is more like the spine of a fish than the spines of other reptiles. Like lizards, tuataras can detach their tail if they need to escape from a predator. However, the way a tuatara tail grows back is different from how a lizard’s tail grows back, and it takes a longer time. Their dentition is unique. Tuataras have a double row of teeth in their upper jaw and a single row of teeth in the lower. When the tuatara closes its mouth, the lower teeth fit perfectly in the space between the upper rows of teeth. This arrangement also allows the animal to deliver a nasty bite.
The tuatara’s slow metabolism is just the thing for the coolish climate of the rocky islands off mainland New Zealand. They often share burrows with seabirds such as shearwaters, and the birds’ guano attracts the invertebrates that the tuatara eats. They’ll also eat small lizards, frogs, the eggs and chicks of their roommates, and even baby tuataras.
This seven-letter animal is famous for being the fastest land animal on earth. Thanks to long legs, a long, bendy spine, and a long tail that acts somewhat like a rudder, the cheetah can run as fast as 60 miles per hour for about 10 to 12 seconds. If its prey, which is usually a small or mid-sized antelope, can stay ahead of it longer than this, it usually escapes. If the cheetah catches it, it bowls it over then clamps its jaws around its throat to suffocate it to death.
Built For Speed
Native to Iran and Africa, the cheetah not only has a long and supple body, but a round, smallish head and a coat of evenly spaced dots on a tawny ground. Its belly and chest are white or buff, and its long tail is ringed. Its face bears distinctive stripes that look like tear tracks from the corners of its eyes to its mouth. A cheetah stands between 26 and 37 inches high at the shoulder, is between 3 feet 7 inches and 4 feet and 11 inches long and weighs between 46 and 159 pounds. Save its dewclaw, its claws are short and blunt and can only be partially retracted. Cheetahs can’t roar like lions or leopards, but chirp, churr, and purr. Unlike lions and leopards, they are tamable, and people have kept them as pets for thousands of years.
Though not as social as the lion, the cheetah is more social than most big cats. Cheetah cubs live with their mother for as long as 20 months, and males often live together, especially if they’re brothers. There are also solitary males with smaller territories than females. Habitat loss, competition with humans and predators such as lions and leopards have reduced the cheetah’s numbers, and its conservation status is vulnerable.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Rudolf Ernst
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