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Odd German Animal Names, Part II

In Part I of this series, we went through a lot of animals whose names end with -tier. In Part II, we'll continue to look at the root words of German animal names and see how they may—or may not—relate directly to descriptions of the animals. So let's further explore the wild and woolly world of odd German animal names!


Die Schildkröte steckt noch vollständig im Ölschiefer fest.

The turtle is still entirely stuck in the oil shale.

Caption 51, Ausgrabungen: Auf den Spuren der Dinosaurier

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Die Schildkröte combines the noun der Schild with the noun die Kröte, and literally means "shield toad." Imagine seeing a turtle for the first time: Its shell looks like a shield, and its face, with a bit of imagination, might resemble a toad—albeit a very large one!


Normalerweise gelten Waschbären als aggressive Wildtiere.

Normally, raccoons are considered aggressive wild animals.

Caption 2, Die Top Ten: Die unglaublichsten Tiererlebnisse

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You probably noticed already that der Waschbär, the German word for "raccoon," breaks down into "wash bear." That seems a pretty far-fetched description of the animal, which is known for washing food, but does not look much like a bear. In fact, it's possible that the raccoon shares ancestors with those of today's bears, although this is just one theory of several. An 18th century Swedish botanist was the first to make this connection, and since then a number of European languages contain the word "bear" as part of the raccoon's name. The French, however, were less kind—and less accurate—in naming the raccoon le raton laveur ("the washing rat")!


Wenn Fledermäuse so schlafen, dann bin ich froh, dass ich keine bin.

If bats sleep like this, then I am glad that I am not one.

Caption 41, Meine Freundin Conni: Conni schläft im Kindergarten

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Die Fledermaus seems to consist of the noun fledern ("to hurl something vigorously") and the noun die Maus. Thus you have a sort of "throw mouse" or "hurl mouse." But that's not where the word came from! Rather, it comes from the Old High German term Flattermaus, which is derived from the verb flattern, or "to flutter." Thus our root words search reveals the bat to be a "flutter mouse."


Etwa 20.000 Seehunde haben das Wattenmeer zu ihrer Heimat gemacht.

About 20,000 seals have made the Wadden Sea their home.

Caption 11, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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Der Seehund, clearly a "sea dog" by its root words, is of course a seal. Funny that in English, "sea dog" is an old slang term for a sailor! The more proper German name for the seal is die Robbe.


Selbst ausgewachsen werden diese Tintenfische gerade mal 20 Zentimeter groß.

Even fully grown, these squid will only become 20 centimeters long.

Caption 28, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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From the German word for "squid" we can derive, from die Tinte and der Fisch, an "ink fish." The term is slightly confusing, since many varieties of octopus also, like squid, are able to release a dark "ink" to help escape from potential predators. Octopus, in German, is der Oktopus, although the more scientific name is der Krake.


Further Learning
In an upcoming lesson, we'll discuss a number of animals whose names derive from das Schwein, but who are not actually related to the pig family. In the meantime, you can go to Yabla German and watch the videos listed above to find out more about these animals in context.

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