Glossary of wildlife words

Glossary of wildlife words

Russell Savory

Have you come across a wild word which has left you stumped? Take a look at our glossary and find out what it means...

If a word isn't here that you think should be, just let us know!


Abundant (pronounced ah-bun-dant) - This refers to when there is a lot of something. For example, “During summer, insect life is at its most abundant”.

Amphibian (pronounced am-fib-ee-an) - An amphibian is a cold-blooded vertebrate. This includes creatures such as frogs, toads and newts. They're different from reptiles in a number of ways but the main one being they don't have scales, in fact their skin is usually moist!


Biodiversity (pronounced by-oh-dye-vur-sit-ee) - This is the variety of plant and animal life in an area.


Camouflage (pronounced cam-oh-flar-je) - When something is camouflaged, it means it is coloured in a way that looks like its surroundings. Some animals use camouflage to protect themselves from predators, or even to sneak up on prey! Mountain hares can even change the colour of their coat depending on the time of year. In summer they are grey-brown, so they are hard to spot against the heather moorland. In winter, they are almost completely white, so they disappear against the snow.

Carbon footprint - Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide that is released as a result of your activity.

Citizen science - This is when members of the public collect information on the natural world for science. An example of this is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch! Find out how to take part in a project here.

Climate crisis (pronounced cly-mat cry-sis) - This describes the impacts of global warming and climate change.

Compost (pronounced comp-ost) - Compost is a mix of ingredients which can be used to improve soil. Compost is commonly made from decomposing plant and food waste – like vegetable peelings and grass cuttings!

Conservation (pronounced con-sur-vay-shun) - This is the protection of things, such as our wildlife!


Deciduous (pronounced di-sij-oo-uhs) - A tree or a shrub that loses all of its leaves each year and regrows them again. They usually shed their leaves in autumn and regrow them in spring.

Decompose (pronounced dee-com-poze) - When something decomposes, it breaks down in into smaller parts. For example, leaves decompose on the forest floor!

Drought (pronounced drowt) - This refers to a long period of low rainfall, which leads to a shortage of water.


Ecology (pronounced ikol-eh-ji) - Ecology describes the way all living things interact with the other living and non-living things around them. For example, catching fish is part of the ecology of kingfishers. People who study this are called ecologists.

Ecosystem - An ecosystem is an environment where plants and animals live. The plants and animals will interact with the environment and rely on each other to exist.

Edible (pronounced ed-i-bull) - If something is edible it means it’s safe for you to eat.

Endangered (pronounced end-ange-uhd) - If an animal is endangered it means it is at serious risk of going extinct. An example of an endangered animal is polar bears.

Environment (pronounced en-vy-ron-ment) - This can mean the area a person, an animal, or a plant lives in. It can also mean the natural world as a whole.

Equator (pronounced ee-kway-tor) - An imaginary circle around the earth which is halfway between the North and South Poles.

Equinox (pronounced ekk-wee-nox) - An equinox is when the sun’s centre crosses the equator and day and night are of equal length everywhere. This happens twice each year!

Extinct (pronounced ex-tinked) - When an animal goes extinct, it means that it no longer exists.


Glacier (pronounced glass-ee-uh) - This is a slow-moving mass of ice.

Global warming - This is the increasing rise in temperature of the earth, also referred to as climate change.

Greenhouse gas - Carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour are all greenhouse gases that release energy, warming the earth.


Habitat (pronounced ha-bee-tat) - This is the natural home of an animal, plant or other creature.

Harvest (pronounced hah-vist) - A harvest is the process or time when ripe crops are gathered.

Hibernation (pronounced hi-ber-nay-shun) - Hibernation is a special state in which an animal’s body slows down. Their temperature drops, their heart beats more slowly, and they breathe less often. This can allow animals to save lots of energy, meaning they can go without eating for a long time. Animals usually hibernate in winter as there is less food around.


Inedible (pronounced in-ed-i-bull) - If something is inedible is means it’s not safe to eat, like certain fungi!

Invertebrate (pronounced in-vur-ti-brut) - An invertebrate is an animal that doesn’t have a backbone. Animals like starfish and butterflies are invertebrates.


Mammal (pronounced mam-all) - Mammals are warm-blooded vertebrates with hair or fur. Humans are mammals, and so are dogs!

Migration (pronounced my-gray-shun) - A migration is just a movement from one place to another, which usually happens when the seasons change. Animals migrate to find better places to raise their young, to avoid bad weather or to find food. In the UK, most migration happens in spring and autumn.

Mollusc (pronounced mol-usk) - Molluscs are a group of animals (known as a phylum). They are invertebrates and have soft unsegmented bodies. Most molluscs also have some kind of shell, like a snail!

Murmuration (pronounced murr-muh-ray-shun) - The name for a flying flock of starlings.


Nocturnal (pronounced nok-turn-all) - If an animal is nocturnal it means it is active at night. Most owls are nocturnal, and bats too!


Parasitism (pronounced pa-ra-site-iz-um) - This refers to a relationship between two living things. One will benefit from the relationship (the parasite) whilst the other is harmed (the host). An example of a relationship like this is head lice! They live on humans’ heads and eat tiny amounts of blood to survive, making them a parasite. All humans get in return is an itchy scalp, making us the host.

Pheromones (pronounced feh-ra-moans) - A pheromone is a scent given off by some animals. The scent then triggers a response in members of the same species. For example, dogs have pheromones in their urine which marks their territory.

Photosynthesis (pronounced fo-toe-sin-theh-sis) - Photosynthesis is the process by which plants produce their own food. They use sunlight, water and carbon dioxide from the soil and air around them. Plants then convert these elements into sugars (their food) and then release oxygen (as waste) into the air. Photosynthesis is necessary for all life on earth.

Pollination (pronounced poll-in-ai-shun) - Pollination is the process that allows plants to reproduce. It refers to the transferring of pollen from one flower to another. This can be done by wind but most plants need pollinators, like bees, to transfer the pollen by flying from plant to plant.

Predator (pronounced pred-ah-tore) - This is an animal that hunts other animals for food. Lions are predators as they hunt animals like zebras and antelopes.

Prey (pronounced pray) - This refers to an animal that is hunted by another for food. For example, insects are prey as a large number of animals eat them.


Reptile (pronounced rep-tie-uls) - Reptiles are cold-blooded vertebrates with an outer covering of scales, or plates and a bony skeleton. Crocodiles and tortoises are reptiles!


Season (pronounced see-zon) - Our year is divided into four seasons which are marked by their weather patterns and daylight hours. The four seasons are spring, summer, autumn and winter.

Solstice (pronounced sol-stuhs) - This is the time when the sun reaches its most northerly or southerly point. This happens twice a year and causes the longest and shortest days, June 21st and December 22nd.

Species (pronounced spee-shees) - A species is a group of similar organisms that are able to mate.

Sustainable (pronounced sust-ayn-ah-bull) - When something is sustainable, it causes little or no harm to the environment. For example, solar energy (energy from the sun) is sustainable!


Troglophiles (pronounced trog-low-phy-uls) - These are animals that spend part or all of their life in a cave.


Vertebrate (pronounced vur-ti-brut) - A vertebrate is an animal that has a backbone. This includes loads of different creatures from cats to crocodiles!