11 Lesser-Known Names for Baby Animals

iStock.com/ands456
iStock.com/ands456

We know that infant chickens are called chicks and baby ducks are called ducklings. But how do we appropriately refer to the newborn offspring of animals that don’t often get cooed over in their early developmental stages? Here are 11 of some of the more offbeat and uncommon names for baby animals.

1. BABY ALPACA OR LLAMA // CRIA

baby llama
iStock/guenterguni

Despite the subtle distinctions between llamas and alpacas with regards to size, strength, and quality/quantity of wool fiber produced from their respective fleeces, both animals can interbreed and successfully produce offspring. Both genetically pure llamas/alpacas and their mixed progeny are called cria in the singular, crias in the plural.

2. BABY CLAM // LARVA 

That steaming helping of seafood stew will look much less appetizing with the word “larva” stuck in your head. I’m sorry.

3. BABY HARE // LEVERET

baby rabbit in the grass
iStock/Byrdyak

A curious fact about hares: Rather than sheltering their newborn young from potential dangers in their environment, a mother hare will leave her offspring behind for long periods of time within an hour of their birth in order to avoid attracting predators to them, returning to provide food at night. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton, hoping to curb instances of well-intentioned but ill-informed citizens spontaneously adopting baby hares found in fields, promotes a catchy slogan: "If you see a baby hare, leave it right there!" They may know the correct term is leveret, but it's much harder to rhyme with it.

4. BABY FISH // FRY, FINGERLING

The names for baby fish are memorable for their irony: fry, a common method of preparing the edible varieties for consumption, and fingerling, a type of potato that pairs well as a side. Not suitable for vegetarians.

5. BABY FOX // KIT

baby fox
iStock/wildcatmad

Born blind, deaf, and toothless, fox kits mature quickly. Around 4-5 weeks, their blue eyes darken to amber; within the first month, they develop their trademark white face patches; and they reach adult proportions in as little as six months. 

6. BABY HAWK // EYAS

In general, a fledgling hawk taken from its nest within its first year of life, specifically for the purposes of falconry, is called an eyas. In particular, the two baby hawks born in Washington Square Park under the watchful eye of the New York Times HawkCam in 2012 are called Boo and Scout.

7. BABY PIG // SHOAT, FARROW

In addition to the more obvious "boarlet" and "piglet," baby hogs and boars may also correctly be referred to as shoats (newly weaned pigs) or a farrow (a collective term for a group of young pigs). For the purposes of a nursery rhyme, however, "this little piggy" is an appropriate substitute.

8. BABY JELLYFISH // EPHYRA

Jellyfish swim at the Ocearium
Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

And the term for a group of jellyfish traveling together: a “smack.”

9. BABY BEAVER // PUP, KIT, KITTEN

With names borrowed from both cats and dogs but none truly of their own, it's not hard to imagine a baby beaver might have some identity struggles growing up.

10. BABY PLATYPUS // PUGGLE

Although there’s some controversy over its unofficial status as a legitimate term for baby platypuses, “puggle” is a term borrowed from baby echidnas and applied to its fellow egg-laying mammale. There is no officially recognized label for platypus babies, but in recent years “platypup” has emerged as a more logical but less memorable alternative. And yes, I used “platypuses” as a plural for platypus, and I’m sticking to my guns here.

11. BABY SWAN // CYGNET, FLAPPER

baby swans
iStock

The “ugly duckling” may have outgrown his awkward phase and blossomed into a beautiful swan, but I speak from experience: those things are mean.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

Cats Make Facial Expressions, But Not Everyone Can Read Them

takoburito/iStock via Getty Images
takoburito/iStock via Getty Images

Science has finally confirmed what humans have suspected for centuries: Cats are inscrutable creatures prone to peculiar behavior. Some of us, however, are still capable of picking up on their subtle emotional cues, including facial expressions, without relying on clues like tails, ears, or whiskers.

This new evidence of a cat’s slightly malleable face comes from a study in the journal Animal Welfare. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, recruited 6329 participants to watch a series of 20 video clips featuring cats reacting to either a positive or negative event. A positive interaction was defined as a feline approaching a human for a treat or an owner-identified action the cat traditionally found pleasant, like climbing into a favorite spot. A negative response was when a cat was confronted with something it wanted to avoid, was prevented from going into an area or outside, or was displaying an obvious sign of distress, like growling. (Sounds were edited out.) Most clips were from YouTube, though some were submitted by veterinarians and university colleagues. Breeds with long hair that might obscure facial changes were omitted. Most respondents were cat owners, and 74 percent were women 18 to 44 years old.

Using these brief clips, the researchers asked subjects to classify the cats as exhibiting positive or negative behavior by relying only on closely cropped footage of a cat’s face. They couldn’t rely on the tail or any other body language. The result? The average score was just 59 percent correct, accurately identifying a cat’s mood in an average of 12 out of the 20 clips. These humans, in other words, had little idea what a cat was experiencing based solely on their faces.

So why do researchers think they have any expression at all? Roughly 13 percent of subjects scored well on the test, getting at least 15 of the 20 questions correct. Those that did well were generally people who had extensive experience with cats, like veterinarians. That led researchers to conclude that people can become more attuned to the subtle flickers of emotion that may pass over a cat’s face.

“They could be naturally brilliant, and that’s why they become veterinarians,” Georgia Mason, a behavioral biologist and the study’s senior author, told The Washington Post. “But they also have a lot of opportunity to learn, and they’ve got a motivation to learn, because they’re constantly deciding: Is this cat better? Do we need to change the treatment? Does this cat need to go home? Is this cat about to take a chunk out of my throat?”

The paper appears to offer encouraging evidence that “cat whisperers” really do exist. If you’re curious whether you could be one of them, you can take a shortened version of the video test online.

[h/t Washington Post]

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