Do Zoologists Pick Animal Names Like “Pink Fairy Armadillo”?

When new animals are named, zoologists are known to slap on mysterious scientific labels (like Apodemus sylvaticus for the humble mouse). Thankfully, some animal scientists are kind enough to give them second names in English so the rest of us can pronounce them.

Sometimes, they even have a sense of humor, translating Chaetophractus vellerosis into “Screaming Hairy Armadillo.” Looks like a blob? Blobfish. Resembles a wormy-thing eating ice cream? Ice Cream Cone Worm.

Today, we’re sending up a toast to the zany zoologists who came up with descriptive words to suit some pretty odd animals and their unique characteristics by listing some of the best-named creatures. Because even scientists like to have fun with words to help us laymen folk truly understand the nuances of some of these rare animals.

sarcastic fringehead

Sarcastic fringehead could be the best insult for your fashionista friend. As for whether this fish drips with sarcasm, that’s impossible to say.

Male sarcastic fringeheads vie for female attention by opening their mouths as wide as possible, and lunging, jaws-agape, toward each other. The dude with the smaller mouth loses. Maybe big mouths and sarcasm go together?

wunderpus photogenicus

Wunderpus photogenicus is actually a scientific name, not a dumb-downed name for the rest of us, and no doubt it is the funniest one out there. It sounds like the perfect moniker for one of those adorable cats online that’s been forced to wear a hero’s cape and pose in front of a cloud background. Such a photogenic wonder-puss!

In reality, the wunderpus photogenicus is a type of octopus that likes to soak in the warm waters of Bali. We don’t blame him. His bold reddish-brown and white colors also make him a favorite of snorkeling photographers, hence the photogenicus.

pink fairy armadillo

If the screaming hairy armadillo is both a wild screecher and a hairy mess, does that mean the pink fairy armadillo is pink and tiny, with gossamer wings and a wand?

In fact, aside from the wings and wand, our description isn’t far off. This armadillo, native to Argentina, is the smallest of the species. And, it’s pink! Or at least, the armor on its back is; its underside is covered in silky, white fur.

Pink and white make a good color combo for a fairy costume. But, does that make the armadillo a fairy? Not without the glitter.

ice cream cone worm

Unlike the classic earthworm, the Pectinaria gouldii, or ice cream cone worm, is a marine specimen that likes hanging out in mudflats and shallow waters at low tide. Of course, the little feller is said to look like an ice cream cone. In truth, it really doesn’t—we think it more closely resembles a cannoli, but we won’t press the issue.

The worm’s cone is composed of sand grains held together with “proteinaceous glue.” If you ever mistook this cone for ice cream, the delicious filling inside—the precious worm—would extend an octopus-load of tiny ticklers to try to drag your tongue (like the sediments it feeds on) into its mouth. Mmm.

tit tyrant

Obviously, the small bird named the tit tyrant doesn’t possess large (or even petite) mammary glands.Tit is a centuries-old word for “little” and is also a designation for a family of birds commonly known in the US as chickadees.  These birds are part of the Tyrannidae family (where tyrant comes from), which is the largest family of birds in the world.

spiny lumpsucker

The spiny lumpsucker looks like a cartoon version of itself. Divers have described the fish as “a ping pong ball with fins.”

As you’ll continue to see throughout this list, most animals are given pronounceable English names that reference the one or two physical features impossible for anyone to miss. In this case, spines zig and zag along the top of the fish, and (instead of scales) it has large brownish, spiny lumps covering its little body. With three defining descriptors, the fish could’ve easily been named lumpy spinesucker or sucking spinelump. Lucky sucker.

pleasing fungus beetle

Pleasing fungus beetle is a layered oxymoron. Part of this description makes perfect sense because this species feeds on mushrooms, which are fungi.  But, what could be pleasing about an insect that eats fungus?

Apparently, the beetle’s colorfully patterned shells are quite pleasing to entomologists. It’s true, the design is very attractive; zoom in past the sticky tentacles and bug legs and you’ve almost got a cute little guy.

satanic leaf-tailed gecko

Somehow, this docile creature must’ve gotten involved with the wrong crowd. To look into its bulging red eyes might give one the impression of impending doom. The pitchfork made of twigs doesn’t help either.

The satanic leaf-tailed gecko also has an incredible camouflaging ability to blend in with the leaves around it, thanks to its leaf-tail.


Hellbenders, also called Chinese giant salamanders, are actually timid creatures—and pretty cute too … in a slimy way.

These creatures are true world travelers, able to live on both land and sea. You might think it’s ironic that a slimy, wet salamander is designated by a name that conjures fire. But, in fact, after a cool dip, they like to get all coiled and cozy inside burning logs, which is where people used to find them (and thus, the origin of the name hellbender).

rasberry crazy ant

Not to be confused with the delicious raspberry fruit, the rasberry crazy ant was named for a Texas exterminator named Tom Rasberry.

Run-of-the-mill ants are annoyingly inevitable at picnics, but they get “crazy” if they’re members of the Nylanderia fulva family. With quick, erratic movements, these South American ants showed up in Texas in droves in the early 2000s. To fight back, Rasberry’s exterminator business had to pull out the big bug-zappers.

tasseled wobbegong

For whatever reason, the tasseled wobbegong conjures up an image of a miserable, woebegone, long-faced Scrooge scuffing around in tasseled slippers, closing heavily-fringed drapes on the whole of detestable humanity. Or, something like that.

Fortunately, our ridiculous metaphor carries some weight, as the tasseled wobbegong might be the Scrooge of the sea. It’s a wide, flat, speckled shark that camouflages against the coral reefs of the sea bed, lying in wait for innocent victims to swim within reach.

star-nosed mole

The star-nosed mole can barely see, but it’s shockingly the world’s fastest forager and eater, able to locate and devour yummy worms in a quarter of a second!

It accomplishes this feat with its star-shaped nose, which in a single second can extend out to sense what’s going on in 10–12 different places at once. That’s freaky.

red-lipped batfish

Because the double-noun in red-lipped batfish ends in fish, you know we’re dealing with a cold-blooded swimmer.

This bat-like fish looks like it sucks blood with vampires and swirls on Cherry Bomb lipstick when it’s out of juice. It has some interesting un-fishlike behaviors as a result of a few modifications to its fins, which give it the appearance of walking on the sea floor.

If bats are creepy, then red-lipped batfish are even creepier.

hummingbird hawk-moth

The hummingbird hawk-moth is a moth, first and foremost. It has a long tongue-looking appendage called a proboscis that it uses to suck nectar from flowers; it even makes a humming sound and flaps its wings.

There are other varieties of hawk-moths too, named because of their larger size compared to other moths and their ability to sustain flight.

frill-necked lizard

Indeed, the frill-necked lizard‘s neck features a scaly, frilled collar, which Shakespeare could have only dreamed about.

When this reptile feels menaced, it raises up to its full three-foot size, opens the umbrella that is his neck-frill, and hisses through his gaping mouth. If the enemy is still unfazed, Mr. Frills turns on his two hind feet, and runs—knees splayed, frills erect—to the safety of a tree.

fried egg jellyfish

While we’re on the subject of strange animals resembling food, the fried egg jellyfish really does resemble a fried egg—not scrambled, not 6-minute-boiled, but authentically iron-skillet fried.

We’ll say over-easy, but really, it has the look of an egg that’s been on the heat just long enough for the white to turn opaque. Details matter! Not sure if we are hungry or thoroughly disgusted after this one.

dumbo octopus

Like the adorable elephant in Disney’s Dumbo, the dumbo octopus gets its name from its big ear-like fins that flap and fly as it moves in the watery deep. Extremely deep, like 13,000 feet deep! In fact, the Grimpoteuthis spp (totally unpronounceable) is the only octopus species that can survive at such depths.

And, what makes this variety of octopus even more adorable is its ability to puff out like a cocktail umbrella.

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