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Odd Common Names of Mammals – Who are you calling a marmot?!

Updated on January 30, 2013
Cougar on the prowl. Watch out fellas! ;)
Cougar on the prowl. Watch out fellas! ;) | Source
I think this deer mouse is trying to pass as a house mouse!
I think this deer mouse is trying to pass as a house mouse! | Source
Happy house mice. Do these guys look Fancy to you?
Happy house mice. Do these guys look Fancy to you? | Source
Somebody get this guy a flea collar asap!
Somebody get this guy a flea collar asap! | Source
Take a look at those paws! Forget glutton, this guy's name should be Bigfoot!
Take a look at those paws! Forget glutton, this guy's name should be Bigfoot! | Source
Coyote on a golf course. Maybe he thinks one of his names is Fido?
Coyote on a golf course. Maybe he thinks one of his names is Fido? | Source
MOOOOO! | Source
How many whistles could a whistle-pig whistle...
How many whistles could a whistle-pig whistle... | Source

What's in a name?

As soon as I began taking a graduate course in mammalogy, I never looked at a mouse the same way again. White belly? That’s a Peromyscus. Solid color and running down the hall of the dorm? Gotta be a Mus, and a good reason to live off campus!

What are these funny words in italics? These are the genus names of some very common mouse species. If you want to get really picky, I can go one further to the level of species. Closer study will reveal if that Peromyscus is a Peromyscus leucopus (white-footed mouse) or a Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse). A key difference in many a research study. And mammalogy exam.

That binomial nomenclature is so ingrained in my brain at this point that I still use the scientific names without even thinking about it. We weren't even require to learn common names, but miss one double "i" and zero points for you!

If you aren't researching critters, or trying to ace a test, what does it matter which Rattus is which? A rat is a rat, right? And if it is running around in your basement that makes it a pest to boot! Considering Rattus rattus (Black rat) carries the fleas that transmit the plague while its very similar relative Rattus norvegicus (Brown rat) does not, it might matter. At least it did if you were living in 14th Century Europe!

I am sure you noticed that after that italicized nonsense, there is a much more readable name in parentheses. That is the “common name” of the species in question. You might be wondering, why learn that Latinized jargon if there is a common name available in perfectly good English? Black rat. Brown rat. Cooties. No Cooties. What if I told you English rats carry plague? And house rats. Which one is the house rat? BOTH!

Scientific names are standardized. They are 100% unique to a specific organism. Common names are not. A mammal can have more than one common name. Two mammals can share the same common name. What a mess that can lead to! Furthermore the same common names are not used in the same localities or over the same generations.

Should you be concerned if your neigbor sees a whistle-pig in your yard? Would you even know where to look for it? What about a catamount? When you do go to look for it, do you bring a stick or a shotgun?!

Yes. I am exaggerating. For the most part, we all use the same common names, correctly or not (What we call a Dolphin is sometimes a Porpoise), to identify mammals. I don't think anyone will be in danger investigating a pest sighting because they misunderstood their neghbor's jargon.

You can have loads of fun confusing and annoying folks by adopting some of the varied and not-so-common common names below. Even better, switch up what you call something every time you mention it: "Honey, I saw a Peromyscus in the basement. Would you mind setting a trap?" "Did you catch that deer mouse yet? I would hate to have a family of wood mice nesting in the wall". You can use my short list below to get yourself started. And then have fun searching for more!

Some North American* Mammals and Their Common Names

Some of these common names are fairly, well, common and others are a little out there...

Canis latrans - Coyote, American jackal, prairie wolf, brush wolf

Didelphis virginiana - Oppossum, Virginia Oppossum, North American Oppossum, Possum

Felis concolor - Cougar, mountain lion, panther, Florida panther, puma, catamount

Gulo gulo - Wolverine, glutton (gulo is Latin for glutton), stink-bear, little bear, carcajou, quickhatch

Marmota monax - Groundhog, marmot, whistle-pig, land beaver, Punxsutawney Phil (OK I snuck that one in there myself)

Monodon monoceros - Narwhal, Narwhale, white whale, unicorn whale (Medieval Europeans clamed that the tusk was that of a unicorn!)

Mus musculus - Mouse, house mouse, feeder mouse, laboratory mouse, fancy mouse (domesticated)

Peromyscus maniculatus - Deer mouse, wood mouse, woodland deer mouse, prairie deer mouse

Rattus norvegicus - Rat, brown rat, common rat, street rat, sewer rat, house rat, Hanover rat, Norway rat, brown Norway rat, Norwegian rat, or wharf rat

Rattus rattus - Rat, black rat, ship rat, roof rat, house rat, Alexandrine rat, and old English rat (fyi - these guys are the ones that host the fleas that transmit bubonic plague. yikes!)

Trichechus manatus - West Indian manatee, manatee, sea cow, Caribbean manatee, manati, vaca marina, Mermaid (me again! though a few drunken sailors might agree)

*The two species of Rattus are exotic species from Europe and technically not North American mammals, though they have become quite comfortable here. Just ask anyone who has taken the Subway in NYC!

OK girls. Now when you jump on a chair and yell "Eek! A mouse!" try to be a little more specific!


Next February 2nd be sure to wish everyone a Happy Marmot Day while you wait to see if the whistle-pig sees his shadow!


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    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Daisy - I am glad you enjoyed this. Who wants to learn things if it isn't any fun?! I find I retain information much better when I enjoy learning it...

      Those pesky coyotes are everywhere these days! We have them in the parks up here in upstate NY and they occasionally even make their way in NYC. They are sort of like racoons. They thirve where people live... Cougars on the other hand. They would much rather be in the wild, but us humans have invaded their space. The only sort of cougar that should be mixing with people are the type that hunt young men :)

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)


      I enjoy reading Hubs in which I learn something new, especially in a fun way. What a terrific article!

      I've seen Canis latrans in my backyard and other places within a few miles of my house. There have been sightings of Felis concolor in the area, too.

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      rahul0324 - Then I have accomplished my mission, to educate and entertain! Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      This was enlightening and amusing .. both at the same time

      Interesting write Dana...

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      sgbrown - Iama total nerd. I get such a kick out of weird science and nature info. It is so much fun to share it too. Glad you enjoyed this. Thanks bunches for the vote and share too!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I loved this hub! I love finding interesting and funny information on animals. You did a great job here! Not only did I learn a few things but I had a good laugh too! Voted up ++ and sharing! :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Stephanie Henkel - thank you for the host of compliments. Yes I am proud to be a nerd. I got the idea for this hub from my days as a graduate student. Our professor told us about woodchucks being called marmots and whisltpigs and it was a running source of amusement for the rest of my time there. I am glad to share my knowledge with others in a way that is enjoyable.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

      Cute hub! You are a nerd! :) Great research and photographs, too. I couldn't believe that you even made a rat look cute - ugh! I love the nickname, "whistle pig" for the groundhog, but I don't think I could ever think of one as a marmot. It is interesting to see the relationship between certain animals, though.

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      IntegrityYes - THANK YOU! i ama total nerd that is determined to show others that science and nerdy stuff can be fun. thanks for stopping by and for voting. you rock.... see you around!

    • profile image

      IntegrityYes 5 years ago

      HAH-HAH! I voted up! You are writing great ones.

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Sueswan - so nice to see you stopping by my hub.... now if that silly coyote ever did catch the roadrunner all of the fun would end! Or maybe he would get away and they could start all over :)

      I had fun writing this. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      Sueswan 5 years ago

      Hi Dana,

      Great hub! Educational , entertaining and funny.

      Do your remember Wile E. Canis latrans? I always wished he would catch the Roadrunner. lol

      Voted up and away

      Have a good day. :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      TT - glad to provide you with your fix of nerdiness and wildlife! Thanks bunches for the votes. U rock.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Excellent, Dana! I just got my nerd fill today! LOVED IT! I haven't made it to a zoo or an aquarium recently, so this hit the spot. Thank you!!! :) VUM.

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Josh - You are very welcome! I am surprised that everyone seems to be getting a kick out of the scientific names. They are pretty amusing. I sould do a hub on wacky scientific names... I see u are form PA. You gotta refer back to this hub in February so you can wish everyone a Happy Marmota monax day!

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 5 years ago from Pennsylvania


      Thanks you have just unknowingly created a new language for me! ROFL. Could you imagine me going around saying, "Did you see that Peromyscus maniculatus last night?...It scared the living daylights out of me!" LOL

      Thanks for the informative hub, and have a great rest of your weekend!

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      midget38 - you should start talking like that. People would totally flip when you start talking about the easter Sylvilagus floridanus! Thanks for appreciating my nerdi-ness. :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Docmo - Ah, you have taken it to the subspecies level. Bravo! Drop that familiaris and that Canis lupus will be having you for dinner rather than you feeding him! I like the idea of referring to pets with the laatin names. I had a very cute Phodopus campbelli as a child. Always wanted a Cavia porcellus too..... My latin name? Hmmm? .... I would love to get to name a new species. I am sure you know that the choosing of the last part is nearly a free for all. Oh the things I could come up with! :)

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 5 years ago from UK

      Dana, I like your mammal love. I know my 'Canis lupus familiaris' from my 'Felis silvestris catus' and my daughter's ' Cavia porcellus' from 'Phodopus campbelli ' but enough about pets. If you were a latin pet name, would you be 'Dana Teresaus Strangii'? Thanks for some brain food. You can out-nerd me anytime.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Interesting, Dana! Think my mum will give me an odd look if I said there is a rattus rattus around the house! Very informative.