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26 Words That Describe Animal Behaviors (Examples)

Every animal has its own special characteristics that make it unique and easy to differentiate from others in the wild. To help us understand and appreciate how complex the animal kingdom is, scientists and researchers have developed various adjectives that describe these unique animal behaviors. 

To help you better understand these terms, this article will go over some of the most frequently used adjectives in animal the animal world, along with some examples. 

26 words that describe animal behaviors

Below you’ll find a list of some of the most frequently used terms to describe each species, ranging from those describing their habitat and diet to those referring to their sexual behavior. 

1. Arboreal

Pygmy Sloth
Pygmy Sloth

Arboreal animals love living and thriving in the lush and verdant canopies of trees. They actively make these canopies their home, enjoying abundant life and resources.

These creatures have developed special adaptations to survive in the treetops, where they can access plenty of resources and protect themselves from predators.

Through the development of specialized features and behaviors, they’re able to move effortlessly through the branches of trees. 

Examples:

  • Koala: Since eucalyptus leaves are the main food source for koalas, this tree is the only one on which they can be found. 
  • Sloth: Sloths are slow-moving animals that spend most of their lives in trees, where they can better camouflage themselves from potential predators. 
  • Rough green snake: You’ll often spot this snake species living in trees, as they have rough scales on their bodies that help them climb easily.
  • Green iguana: While green iguanas are big, their strong limbs and claws make it easy for them to grab onto branches and climb trees, where they like to live: high up in the tree canopy. 

2. Aquatic

Whale Shark
Whale Shark

Aquatic animals are incredible creatures that live in a variety of water habitats. You can find them in freshwater environments like rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, as well as in saltwater habitats, such as the vast oceans and coasts. These creatures also have adaptations that help them thrive in aquatic environments. 

Examples:

  • Whale: Since whales occasionally need to breathe air, they’re large marine mammals that live underwater but are frequently spotted on surfaces. 
  • Shark: You can find sharks in various ocean habitats and they’re one of the most feared predators in the water. 
  • Trout: Trouts are a type of fish that can be found in cold, freshwater environments like streams and rivers. 
  • Crab: Typically burrowing in sand or mud, this crustacean is among those you’ll find in both freshwater and saltwater environments. 

3. Marsupial 

Kangaroo
Kangaroo

Unlike mammals, marsupials have babies that aren’t fully grown when they’re born. When a marsupial mother gives birth, her baby, called a joey, is born in an undeveloped state.

But the mother has a pouch on her belly called a marsupium where the joey attaches and stays until it’s old enough to leave its mother’s body on its own. 

Examples:

  • Kangaroo: Kangaroos, known for their hopping, are marsupials that inhabit New Guinea and Australia.
  • Tasmanian devil: As their name suggests, Tasmanian devils are endemic to Tasmania and are marsupials capable of producing up to 30 offspring at once. 
  • Wallabies: Wallabies are commonly mistaken for kangaroos due to their similar appearance. However, wallabies are much smaller than kangaroos and prefer to live in forests.
  • Wombats: Wombats, like kangaroos, are marsupials that can be found in Australia. However, their pouch faces the opposite direction, preventing soil from entering the pouch when the animal burrows.

4. Carnivorous

Lioness eating flesh
Lioness eating flesh

Carnivores are animals whose diet consists mainly of meat. They have adapted to this unusual diet by developing razor-sharp teeth, massive jaws, and extraordinary hunting skills, which allow them to seize and quickly consume their prey. 

Examples:

  • Wolves: Wolves are carnivores that hunt together in packs to bring down their prey, which can include moose, bison, elk, and deer. 
  • Lions: Lions are large carnivores that are native to Africa and can be found anywhere from open plains to thick brush and dry thorn forests. Their diet consists solely of meat, which can come from those as small as birds or as large as elephants. 
  • Alligators: Since alligators live near water, fish, snails, and other invertebrates that they can find in or near the water are their main food source. 
  • Owl: As birds of prey, owls mostly eat small animals like insects, rodents, and lagomorphs. Some owls even hunt fish. 

5. Nocturnal

Raccoons in swamp
Raccoons in swamp | image by pedrik via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

An animal is considered nocturnal if it’s primarily active at night, indicating that it has adapted to survive in the dark. Their unique abilities help them find their way and stay alive even without the presence of light, like echolocation and eyes that can see in low light. 

Examples:

  • Raccoons: As one of the most common animals to see at night, raccoons have eyes that reflect light, which helps them see well.
  • Bats: Bats are flying mammals that are adapted to living in total darkness and rely on their echolocation sense to provide them with a form of vision. 
  • Eels: Eels are electric marine creatures that generate their own electricity and use it to navigate the murky and dark waters in which they live. 
  • Cottonmouths: As pit vipers, these snakes hunt at night and use their pit organs to create a mental image of their prey. 

6. Solitary

Komodo Dragon on seashore
Komodo Dragon on seashore | image by Adhi Rachdian via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The term “solitary” refers to the fact that these creatures would rather be on their own than with others. They can thrive in the wild without the assistance of any other species because of their better adaptations and resources. 

Examples:

  • Sunfish: Sunfish are a large type of fish that are unlike other types of fish in that they’re not social, and they don’t swim in schools. 
  • Platypus: Apart from being one of the venomous mammals that lay eggs, platypuses are also solitary by nature. 
  • Red pandas: In the wild, red pandas spend their time alone, though breeding pairs often stay together all year long. 
  • Komodo dragon: Komodo dragons are also solitary creatures, though it’s possible to spot mating pairs. 
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7. Placental

Black bear cubs
Black bear cubs | image: Pixabay.com

Animals with a unique organ called a placenta are termed placental. This organ promotes fetal growth and development by allowing for the transport of oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the developing fetus and the removal of harmful waste products. Unlike marsupials, the females give birth to fully developed young rather than immature offspring. 

Examples:

  • Hedgehog: Hedgehogs are one of the many species of animals that have placentas, and their gestation period lasts for thirty-five days.
  • Bears: The duration of a bear’s pregnancy can range from 180 to 266 days, including the period of pre-implantation. 
  • Dogs: Dogs can give birth to litters of three to nine puppies during their nine-week gestation period. 
  • Dolphins: Dolphins are among the placental marine mammals that can carry a pregnancy for a whole year. 

8. Herbivorous

Zebras grazing
Zebras grazing

Unlike carnivores who get all their nutrition from meat, herbivores get everything they need from plants. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grasses, roots, algae, and other forms of plant life are all examples of food that you may find eating. 

Examples:

  • Cows: As ruminants, cows are among the most common herbivores and can consume enormous amounts of grass. 
  • Deer: Deer eat a variety of plant material, depending on the time of year, including leaves, shoots, cacti, grasses, fruit, acorns, and clover.
  • Horses: Horses have a diet of plants and grasses processed by their smaller stomach and larger intestines, allowing them to receive a steady supply of nutrients. 
  • Beavers: Beavers use their chisel-like long front incisors to chomp through grasses, sedges, aquatic plants, and tree bark. 

9. Oviparous

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

You can say that an animal is oviparous when they reproduce by laying eggs. Oviparous creatures, unlike others, have a different reproductive process. Rather than bringing forth live young, these remarkable creatures lay eggs and this is where the embryo undergoes its development. 

Examples:

  • Snakes: Snakes typically lay eggs, and you can locate them in their burrows under the ground. 
  • Spiders: Spiders are one of those that lay the most eggs, and the eggs that they produce are stored inside a large sac that’s made out of their webs. 
  • Platypus: The platypus is one of the few mammals that also lays eggs, making it one of the unique oviparous animals. Since they also have mammary glands, their young can be fed by drinking their mothers’ milk. 

10. Omnivorous

Brown Monkey eating banana
Brown Monkey eating banana

Omnivores are animals that can thrive on a diet, including plant and animal products. These creatures have an advantage over herbivores and carnivores because they can enjoy the best of both worlds. Also, they’re adaptable when it comes to what they eat because they don’t stick to a strict diet. Instead, they eat whatever is available to them in their environment. 

Examples:

  • Pigs: Aside from eating plants like leaves, grass, roots, fruits, and flowers, pigs will also eat small mammals like mice, rats, and hares. 
  • Skunks: Skunks are known to dig for their food and have been seen eating a wide variety of rodents, eggs, fruit, nuts, and seeds. 
  • Monkeys: Monkeys are totally dependent on their natural habitat for sustenance. They’ll munch on anything from fruit to leaves and nuts to insects and small reptiles.

11. Agile

Feline leopard on grassland
Feline leopard on grassland

Animals can be described as “agile” when referring to their physical capabilities and movements. When describing an animal as “agile,” we emphasize its remarkable capability to move swiftly, smoothly, and with exceptional coordination. These traits are vital for their survival and behavior in various situations.

Examples:

  • Impala: The impala is one of the swift animals that can leap up to three meters into the air.
  • Brown hare: With a top speed of 45 miles per hour, brown hares are the fastest land mammal in Britain. 
  • Leopard: Leopards can reach speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour, climb trees, and even rotate their ankles to better position themselves for hunting.

12. Amphibious

Amphibian is an adjective that describes animals that can survive in both land and aquatic environments. They’re cold-blooded, have smooth skins, and secrete mucous to keep their skin moist because most of them can breathe through their skin. 

Examples:

  • Frogs: Frogs are one of the most common types of amphibians you can see worldwide. They have smooth, moist skins and a unique leg structure that allows them to jump and swim effectively. 
  • Axolotl: Axolotls are aquatic amphibians with feathery external gills and a well-known ability to regenerate lost limbs. 
  • Salamander: Salamanders are lizard-like amphibians that prefer wet, aquatic environments. Additionally, their skin is soft and moist, and they can regrow their body parts, such as limbs, tails, eyes, and brain tissue.
  • Mudpuppy: Mudpuppies are a type of amphibian that you can find in permanent water environments, and they breathe oxygen through a set of feathery, red external gills. 

13. Frugivorous

Bonobo ape eating green plants
Bonobo ape eating green plants | Image by tsauquet from Pixabay

The term “frugivore” refers to any animal that obtains the majority of its nutrition from fruit. These fruits are a vital source of food and nourishment for these creatures. With teeth and jaws finely tuned for this diet, they can easily pierce the tough skin of fruits to get to the sweet, juicy flesh beneath. 

Examples:

  • Bonobo: The Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to a population of bonobos, which depend on a diet of fruits, nuts, and seeds. 
  • Tapir: Tapirs are large mammals with prehensile noses that inhabit South and Central America and Southeast Asia, consuming primarily fruits, berries, leaves, branches, and aquatic plants. 
  • Macaque: While fruits make up the bulk of these primates’ diets, you might also spot them munching on leaves, flowers, and even insects. 
  • Cassowary: Cassowaries are large birds that only eat fruits; as a result, they play an important role in the spread of seeds throughout tropical forests. 
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14. Invasive

Rats on lumber
Rats on lumber | Image by Silvia from Pixabay

When a species from another ecosystem is introduced to one where it’s not native, it’ll be called invasive because of the potential harm it may do to native species and the ecosystem as a whole. There are numerous ways for these species to spread to new areas; sometimes by releasing a pet into the wild, unaware of the potential consequences, while other times, these little species can accidentally travel to new locations with humans. 

Examples:

  • Starlings: Originating in Eurasia and North Africa, starlings have become an invasive species in North America, where they have been responsible for significant crop damage. 
  • Rats: The brown rat is a rodent that originated in Central Asia but has since spread to every continent except Antarctica due to trade ships during the 18th century. 
  • Zebra mussels: Since they attach themselves to other mussels and consume algae that other native animals depend on, zebra mussels are mollusks that have become invasive. 

15. Venomous

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake | image by Larry Smith via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The term “venomous” is used to describe animals that are extremely effective at killing their prey with their own venom. Venom is a toxin secreted by certain animals from specialized glands or cells. Also, these creatures have come up with unique ways to inject their venom, either by biting or stinging. In some cases, they may even be able to spit venom. 

Examples:

  • Rattlesnakes: When it comes to venomous snakes, rattlesnakes are among the most commonly known. The rattles these snakes carry serve two purposes: scaring off potential predators and distracting potential prey. 
  • Scorpions: Scorpions are one of the many species that inject venom into their prey via a stinger; the venom glands for this purpose are located on the side of the tail, near the stinger’s tip. 
  • Platypus: The platypus is a venomous mammal with spurs that are connected to crural glands that produce venom, making it one of the most unusual animals. 
  • Stingrays: Stingrays are flat aquatic animals with long tails with a barb covered in rows of sharp spines and used to inject venom into those attacking them. 

16. Viviparous

Wild horses on the ridgeline
Wild horses on the ridgeline | image by Bureau of Land Management via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Viviparous animals are those that are able to carry their embryos and develop them into fully formed offspring within their own bodies. As a result, rather than laying eggs like other oviparous animals, these creatures instead give birth to living young. 

Examples:

  • Horses: Horses give birth to a live foal that can almost immediately stand, walk, and trot after being born. 
  • Deer: Like horse fawns, deer fawns are born ready to walk, run, and stand on their own. However, they usually hide while their mothers look for food. 
  • Rodents: Rodents can have as many as ten litters per year, each containing anywhere from six to eight pups. 
  • Dolphins: Dolphins are one of the marine mammals that give birth to a fully developed, swimming newborn. However, they must immediately ascend to the surface first to take their first breath of air. 

17. Ovoviviparous

Plains garter snake
Plains garter snake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

If you think that there are only two methods of giving birth to a baby animal, you should learn more about ovoviviparous species. These organisms don’t lay eggs but instead allow embryo development within the mother’s reproductive system. The newborns will be born almost instantly after these eggs hatch in the mother. Sometimes, the eggs are laid first, but the hatching begins immediately afterward. 

Examples:

  • Guppies: These aquarium fish can give birth to 200 fry at once and are born fully formed and self-sufficient.
  • Garter snakes: Garter snakes will give birth to 20-40 newly hatched little snakes after being incubated in the female’s lower abdomen for two to three months.
  • Seahorses: Since their eggs are incubated and hatched in the father’s pouch rather than the mother’s, seahorses have one of the most unusual reproduction processes.

18. Ectothermic

Northern map turtle on log
Northern map turtle on log | image by USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr

Species categorized as ectothermic rely on environmental factors like sunlight or a heated rock surface to maintain internal body temperature. Since ectotherms don’t generate enough heat during metabolic activity to maintain a constant body temperature, they must rely on environmental changes to maintain an appropriate internal temperature.

Examples:

  • Turtles: Turtles can control their body temperature by basking in the sun at the water’s surface or on the beach or swimming in warmer or cooler ocean areas.
  • Goldfish: Goldfish, like all other fish, are completely dependent on the surrounding water temperature for maintaining their body temperature.
  • Iguanas: To maintain a comfortable body temperature, iguanas are often seen huddling together or basking in the sun. 
  • Salamanders: To keep their bodies at the right temperature, salamanders like to live near water, where their skin stays moist. 

19. Asexual

Walking stick bug
Walking stick bug

To reproduce, animals need specialized reproductive organs. However, asexual animals are those that can reproduce without mating with others of their own species. This could happen through regeneration; some are even pregnant when they are born. 

Examples:

  • Domestic turkey: Some animals, including turkeys, have been reported to lay unfertilized eggs. 
  • Stick insect: Stick insects can reproduce without a mate by laying eggs that aren’t fertilized and hatching into females. 
  • Sponges: Reproduction in these invertebrates takes place by budding, fission, gemmules, and reduction bodies because they lack true organs.

20. Cannibalistic

Hedgehog on the grass
Hedgehog on the grass | image by Karen Roe via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The consumption of members of one’s own species is referred to as cannibalistic, and it’s a behavior that’s observed in certain animals. This could be due to limited food supplies, but some species also eat members of their kind to supplement their diet. 

Examples:

  • Hedgehogs: A mother hedgehog will eat her young if she feels threatened or if she notices that her young are sick or weak. 
  • Praying mantis: To get the nutrients she needs to have healthy offspring, female praying mantises will eat their partner after mating.
  • Black widow: Female black widow spiders are extremely cannibalistic, eating both their male partners and their newly hatched young.
  • Hippos: Hippos are herbivores, but when food is scarce, they will eat each other to ensure their survival.
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21. Crepuscular

Coyote ready to attack
Coyote ready to attack

Aside from nocturnal and diurnal, some species are also crepuscular. When we use the term crepuscular, we are referring to animals that are active during the twilight hours, either at dusk or dawn. This is the time when they hunt or forage for food, as well as socialize with other animals. 

Examples:

  • Coyotes: Dusk and dawn are the most common times to see coyotes actively hunting their prey. 
  • Cats: If you’re wondering why your cat is most active in the early morning and evening, it’s because they’re crepuscular animals. 
  • Jaguars: During the day, jaguars prefer to sleep high in the trees, but they come down to the ground to hunt at dawn and dusk. 
  • Ferrets: These furry creatures will sleep between 18 and 20 hours per day but come out to play at dawn or dusk. 

22. Anadromous

Brook trout
Brook trout | image by Karelj via Wikimedia Commons

A fish is said to be anadromous if it’s born in freshwater but immediately travels to the ocean after it has hatched from its egg. They’ll then spend most of their lives in the vast ocean, and when it’s time for them to breed, they’ll return to where they were born. 

Examples:

  • Salmon: The most well-known anadromous fish are salmon, which spend anywhere from a few months to two years in freshwater habitats before journeying to the ocean.
  • Trout: Trout may spend the first two or three years in freshwater, then migrate to the ocean for another two or three years, and finally return to their spawning grounds. 
  • Lamprey: This parasitic fish doesn’t immediately swim off to the sea after hatching. Instead, they spend eight years hidden in the sand of freshwater streams, rivers, and lakes before emerging and swimming into the open ocean. 

23. Terrestrial

Tule Elk mount on hill
Tule Elk mount on hill | image by Brandon Levinger via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

When you refer to a species as terrestrial, you are referring to one that lives on land. These animals have evolved particular characteristics that assist them in surviving on land. Most of these creatures have legs or tails, allowing them to run very quickly since they need to be fast runners to catch their prey or escape predators.

Examples:

  • Elk: Elks are a large type of deer that can be found roaming anywhere from dense coniferous forests to brushy clearcuts or forest edges and even semi-arid regions.
  • Owls: While most owls are arboreal, some, like the burrowing owl, are actually terrestrial and use their legs to run quickly across the ground.
  • Groundhog: True to their names, groundhogs are burrowing animals that can be found primarily in open areas near forests, fields, roads, and streams.
  • Rattlesnake: This common venomous snake in North America is a terrestrial animal that prefers rocky habitats like desert washes, rocky hillsides, and grassy areas.

24. Endothermic

Emperor Penguins
Emperor Penguins

When it comes to internal temperature, animals are said to be endothermic if they are able to maintain their temperature regardless of their surroundings. Because these animals can generate their own internal heat, they are also referred to as warm-blooded. This allows them to easily adapt to the temperature of their surroundings, no matter what it may be. 

Examples:

  • Penguins: Penguins are able to keep warm in cold environments because of the blubber beneath their thick skin. 
  • Elephants: These large mammals rely on the large surface area of their ears to dissipate heat, making the ears an important part of their thermoregulatory system. They also use their ears like fans to cool themselves more quickly.
  • Flamingos: The flamingos’ featherless legs let their blood flow up and down, which helps them keep their body temperature steady. 
  • Whales: Whales are marine mammals that cool their outermost skin layer to the same temperature as the surrounding water while using their thick blubber layer to maintain their internal heat

25. Insectivorous

Giant Anteaters forage in the grass field
Giant Anteaters forage in the grass field | image by Eric Kilby via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

An animal is considered an insectivore if most of the food it consumes consists of species of insects. Compared to the size of other animals, they are typically much smaller, and you may also notice that most of them have small eyes and a long snout. 

Examples:

  • Frogs: Frogs are common examples of animals that prey on insects, and they do so with the help of specialized tongues that can stretch quickly to catch their agile prey. 
  • Moles: Moles are burrowing mammals that consume insects, though some species may also eat fish and other invertebrates. 
  • Anteater: Anteaters, one of the most well-known insectivores, use their long snouts to consume ants and termites. 
  • Mantis: Mantises are carnivores that’ll consume anything smaller than themselves. Being relatively small, their primary food source in the wild is the insects they encounter. 

26. Semelparous

Cicada on twig
Cicada on twig

When referring to an animal’s reproductive capabilities, the term “semelparous” indicates that it can only produce offspring once during its entire lifetime. In other words, semelparous species don’t survive long and pass away shortly after having their first babies. 

Examples:

  • Octopus: After mating, octopuses will spend their entire lives tending to their eggs and won’t eat again until the day they die. 
  • Black Widow: Black widow females will always eat the males after mating with them, making breeding dangerous for the males. 
  • Cicada: Although cicadas have a relatively long lifespan compared to other insects, they immediately die once they have mated and laid their eggs. 
  • Quoll: Female quolls can live up to four more years after mating, but males usually die a year after mating because of sleep deprivation.
Louise Robles

About Louise Robles

Louise writes about a wide variety of topics including wildlife, animals, and nature. She's developed a growing interest in animal biology and categorization due to her fascination with how they interact with one another and with their surroundings.