Glossary of Animal and Plant Terms

Trees in a forest with question marks

This is my working glossary. In it you will find the meaning to words and other terms that you might come across in the Nature Fact Pages that appear on my site or in my books.

(Please feel free to share these with your friends or print them for your own reference)

Abdomen Rear segment of the body, behind the thorax.

Adult An animal that has attained full maturity and which is capable of breeding.

Albino (Albanism) With skin lacking in dark pigments.

Amplexus The sexual embrace or mating embrace in frogs.

Antenna(e) Pair of sensory organs on an insect’s head.

Anterior Front of the body.

Aquatic Habitat in or near water.

Arboreal Tree-dwelling

Arthropod Invertebrates with a jointed exoskeleton, including spiders, crustaceans and insects.

Avifauna The birds of a region, environment or period.

Banyan The process that fig trees (Ficus spp.) use to drop aerial roots from their branches down to the ground. 

Beak/Bill Elongated front portion of head or jaw of birds and other animals.

Bifurcate Divided into two branches or parts.

Buttresses Flanges or bracket-like structures at the base of some rainforest trees. 

Camps (colonies) Large groups (particularly of bats).

Canine Pointed teeth between incisors and premolars.

Canthal Stripe A stripe that runs from the snout to the eye in frogs

Carapace Hard shell covering the head and body (cephalothorax) of a crayfish

Carrion Flesh of dead animals

Casque An armoured part of the head.

Cathemeral Active at anytime of the day or night

Caudal At or near the back half of the body

CBD Central Business District

Cere Fleshy covering around the nostrils at the base of the upper mandible.

Chelipeds The claws of crayfish

Clutch The number of eggs laid in a single reproductive event.

Closed Forest A forest that is dominated by trees whose crowns touch or overlap.

Colour morph Any colour that is different to the normal colour.

Congener An animal or plant of the same genus as another 

Conspecific Belonging to the same species.

Constriction Act of coiling tightly around an animal, causing suffocation.

Crepuscular Active at dawn or dusk.

Crest Long feathers attached to part of the head.

Cryptic Camouflaged by body colour and/or shape.

Culmen The ridge along the top of the upper mandible (bird).

Deciduous Seasonal loss of leaves or other parts of a plant.

Dewlap Loose fleshy flap of skin on the throat.

Diagnostic Characteristic that defines identification of a species.

Digit Toe or finger 

Dimorphism Distinct physical differences between sexes.

Distal Section of limb or attachment furthest from body.

Diurnal Active during the day.

Dorsal Upper surface, or back.

Ecdysis (or sloughing) Process of shedding skin.

Echolocation Using sound emitted and analysing returning echo, to determine location of prey or objects.

Ectothermic Body temperature being moderated by the temperature of an animal’s surroundings.

Electrosensor(s)/Electroreceptor(s) A sensor that detects the weak electric field emitted by other living animals.

Endemic Native to the region under consideration.

Epiphyte A plant species that grows on the surface of another without deriving nutrition from that plant (e.g. an orchid).

Extant Still in existence (not destroyed or extinct)

Exudate Liquid emerging from plant parts.

Family A category into which an order is divided.

Femur Section of leg close to the body, attached to the tibia. The short trochanter and coxa sections attach it to the body.

Feral Introduced animal that has become established in the wild.

Fossorial Capable of burrowing.

Frugivore Fruit-eater.

Gallery Forest Closed forest along creeks and rivers

Genus (Genera) Taxonomic group above species and below family.

Glean Gather or collect in small amounts.

Gregarious Living within a group or community.

Harp Trap A harp-like trap used for catching microbats

Herbivorous Feeding on plant matter.

Hibernate Period of inactivity (normally during winter).

Honeydew Sugar-rich liquid produced by sap-sucking insects.

Incisor Chisel-shaped front teeth used for biting or gnawing.

Insectivorous Feeding on insects.

Invertebrate An animal without a backbone.

Iris Part of the eye surrounding the pupil.

Keel Ridges on the scales of some reptiles

Lappet A small piece of flech extending from the body

Larvae Newly hatched, wingless stage of an animal.

Lores Parts of a bird’s face from the base of the bill to the front of the eyes.

Mandible Jaw-like mouthparts (typically lower) used for grasping and cutting.

Maxilla Jaw (upper).

Mechanoreceptor(s) A sensory cell that detects mechanical pressure or distortion.

Melanism Darkening of tissues, primarily the skin, through increased production of the pigment melanin.

Membrane Thin layer of tissue.

Metamorphosis The act in which an animal changes physical state (e.g. from tadpole to frog).
Migrant/Migratory Undertaking regular geographical movements (e.g. from wintering grounds to breeding grounds).

Molar Rear teeth used to chew or grind.

Monsoon Forest Closed forest growing in regions with a long dry season. Typically containing a large number of deciduous tree species.

Nectarivorous Feeding on nectar.

Nocturnal Active at night.

Nomadic Of erratic and changeable movements.

Nominate The first-named race, population or subspecies of a species.

Noseleaf Naked plates around nostrils of bats used in echolocation.

Nuchal The area where the head and neck join.
Nuptial pads Dark coloured pads on the front feet of male frogs which enlarge when reproductively stimulated. These pads are quite rough and aid in reproduction.

Occipital-carapace length (OCL) Measurement of the size of crayfish from rear of eye socket to posterior edge of carapace.

Omnivorous Feeding on both animal and plant matter.
Onomatopoea Formation of a word based on the sound it mimics (e.g. ‘boom’)

Opportunistic Able to adapt, change or act quickly to take advantage of available food or habitat.

Order One of the major groups into which wildlife are classified (e.g Columbiformes are the order of pigeons).

Oviparous Reproduces by laying eggs.

Ovoviviparous Reproduces by forming unshelled egg sacs to house developing young, which are held inside the female until they are ready to hatch, then expelled either still within the egg sac or after they leave it.

Parasitism The laying of an egg in the nest of another species, which incubates and rears the parasitic young.

Plumage The layer of feathers or down on the body (bird).

Posterior Rear of the body.

Prehensile (tail) Adapted to grasp or attach to objects.

Proboscis Long and mobile feeding tube extending from the front of the head, seen in insects.

Prothorax Segment of thorax near the head.

Pteropodid A bat in the Pteropodidae (megabat) family

Reticulated Forming a net-like pattern or reticulum

Rictal bristles Hair-like structures surrounding the base of the bill.

Riparian Found on banks of rivers, streams, creeks etc

Roost A perching place for observation, resting or sleeping.

Rostrum Extension of the carapace between the eyes of a crayfish, ending in a spine at the apex

Rudimentary Poorly developed and non-functional.

Saxicolous Living within rock crevices or caves.

Scat Animal droppings.

Sclerophyll Stiff-leaved plants (esp. forest type).

Scutes Thickened scales typically found on turtle shells and on the upper part of the tail of crocodiles.

Sedentary Spending its entire life in a relatively restricted region.

Semiaquatic Living on land but spending amounts of time in water.

Semelparous A reproductive strategy characterised by death after a single reproductive season

Setae Tiny, hair-like projections on the toe-pads of some geckos.

Spawn The term used to describe a clutch of frog eggs. The act of spawning is when the female releases her eggs into the water as the male sprays sperm over them, allowing them to be fertilised.

Species The category into which a genus is divided (e.g Homo sapiens are modern humans).

Subspecies Level of taxonomic division below a species.

Substrate Underlying layer or material on which an organism lives.

Synonymous Considered to be the same species.

Tarsus (tarsi) The final section of the insect leg, attached to the tibia, often divided into segments called tarsomeres.

Taxonomy Classification of living things based on shared characteristics.

Teat A nipple from the mammary gland. 

Terrestrial Living on or spending time on the ground.

Territory An area defended by an individual animal or group of animals. 

Tibia Distal section of an insect leg between femur and tarsus.

Thorax Middle section of the body of an insect, between head and abdomen.

Tubercle Raised projection.

Tympanum The membrane covering the entrance to the ear of a frog.

Understorey The lower level of vegetation in a forest.
Vagrant Strayed or forced away from its usual range or migration path.

Vent Exterior opening of the anus or cloaca.

Ventral Undersurface or belly of an animal.

Vertebral Along the line of the spine (vertebrae).

Vertebrate An animal with a backbone or notochord.

Vestigial Part of the body that has become rudimentary or functionless in the course of evolution.

Viviparous Reproduces by giving birth to live young.

Zoospore The spore of an algae or fungi capable of sustained movement using its flagellum

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