A Few Words for Nature Nerds
The more you read about wildlife, the likelier you are to encounter these words. Now you'll know what they mean.

Written By

Do you think techies have a lock on weird words? Think again. Wildlife enthusiasts have a lingo all their own. We’ve picked just a few words that might puzzle you on first meeting.

Decoding them may give you a chuckle — and perhaps deepen the pleasure you take from observing the natural world.  

Welcome to nature’s nerdy side. Go easy on dropping these words into daily conversation.

A mule deer, a crepuscular animal, browses at first light along the Green River at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming.

Crepuscular (from the Latin “crepusculum” for twilight). Active at dawn and dusk.

Crepuscular animals — such as rabbits and deer — wait for dawn or dusk to go about their business. Some creatures adopt crepuscular habits to hunt, evade predators or avoid midday heat. True word nerds divide crepuscular animals into two subtypes: matutinal (morning) and vespertine (evening).

Animals that are not crepuscular tend to display diurnal (daytime) or nocturnal (nighttime) activity.

Horseshoe crabs, with their armor-like shells or exoskeletons, come ashore by the thousands in spring along Delaware Bay. 

Exoskeleton (from the Greek). A rigid outer structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish…

Learn more about structure
that supports the body, especially in invertebrates (animals without backbones), such as insects, spiders and crabs.

Horseshoe crabs have exoskeletons. You knew that. How about turtles? Fooled you. Turtles may have bony shells, but their skeletons are on the inside (endoskeletons), just as ours are.

Pintail ducks and other birds fly over Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, located along the Atlantic Flyway.

Flyway A major air route of migratory birds.

Flyways are the main avenues linking birds’ breeding grounds up north with their wintering areas down south. North American birds can choose one of four routes: the Pacific, Central, Mississippi or Atlantic Flyway. Some routes extend north as far as the Arctic Circle and south as far as the tip of South America.

 

Atlantic puffins build nests each spring and summer on rocky cliffs at Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Habitat (from the Latin “habitare,” to live). The place where a plant or animal normally lives and grows.

If you’re in your native habitat, you probably haven’t strayed far from the place you think of as home.

 

To those in the know, this bird photographed in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota is a song sparrow. To others, it's an LBJ.

LBJ  (birders’ slang). Little Brown Job. 

When you hear this acronym from birders, you can bet they’re not summoning the spirit of Lyndon Baines Johnson. They’re admitting they can’t differentiate a bird they see from scores of other small nondescript brown birds. To the question, “See anything in that field?” a birder might answer: “Not much. Some LBJs at the far end, but I couldn't get a good look at them without a scope.”

 

A prothonotary warbler perches easily on a branch at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, thanks to a toe pattern that marks it as a passerine.

Passerine (from the Latin “passerines,” meaning “of a sparrow”). Perching birds.

More than half the world’s bird species — including songbirds, sparrows and finches —are passerines. What makes a bird a passerine is its toe arrangement. Three of its four toes face forward; the other points backward, allowing the bird to grasp tree limbs and branches.

 

The Little Tennessee River in North Carolina creates a riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

Learn more about riparian
(riverbank-related) corridor.

Riparian (from the Latin “riparius” for river, derived from “ripa” for bank or shore). Relating to or located on a riverbank.

Riparian areas support many species of wildlife. Animals use riverbanks for food, shelter, nesting sites and travel arteries. Riparian areas also attract tourists and boost local economies.

 

Rufous hummingbird feeding at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge.

Rufous (from Latin “rufus”). Reddish-brown animal skin, fur or feathers

Why do we have a special word for the color red in animals, particularly birds? Go figure. The rufous hummingbird — only about 3 inches long and weighing just over a penny — flies an astounding 2,000 miles or so in its yearly migrations. Don’t wear a rufous tie to the party if you don’t want to stick out.

 

Tule elk ungulates — browse in a meadow at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in California.

Ungulate (from Latin “ungula” for hoof). A large hoofed mammal, such as a deer, elk, moose or pig.

Overgrazing by wild ungulates can stress sensitive ecosystems at national wildlife refuges.

A forested wetland is part of the Pocomoke River watershed in Maryland.

Watershed A land area that collects rain and snow and funnels it into a river, stream or groundwater.

No, a watershed is not an outhouse.

 

 

Story Tags

Adults
Children
Connecting people with nature
Environmental education
Visitor services

Recreational Activities