A Mammalian Lexicon

The aim of this page is to help you in remembering the scientific names of the mammals that we see in the lab. I find that knowing the origins of words helps me remember them. Some word roots you may recognize (di (from Greek) meaning two, micro (from Greek) meaning small), and others you will learn to recognize as you’ll see them frequently in mammalian taxonomy (dasy (from Greek) meaning hairy, pteron (from Greek) meaning wings). What you’ll find on the list below is the taxonomic list from your course-pack, with the word root origins, some other words that contain the word roots, and a short explanation if the meaning isn’t obvious. The word roots are usually Latin (L) or Greek (Gr), but sometimes they are from native languages, or the language of the mammalogist who described the critter. I have taken some liberties in translating to make things more understandable, so don’t quote me in a publication. Have fun, and if you have any suggestions, let me know!


Class Mammalia: mamma (L) a breast.

Subclass Prototheria: protos (Gr) first; ther (Gr) a wild animal. proton, theriomorphic (having the form of an animal, as in mythology).

Order Monotremata: monas (Gr) single; trema (Gr) a hole. monotone, trematode (a parasitic flatworm). Refers to the cloaca (cloaca (L) a sewer, by the way)

Family Ornithorhynchidae: ornithos (Gr) a bird; rhunkhos (Gr) a bill or snout. ornithology, rynchophoran (the suborder of beetles that includes the weevils).

Family Tachyglossidae: takhus (Gr) fast; glossa (gr) tongue. tachometer, tachycardia, glossary.

Subclass Metatheria: meta (Gr) can mean among or later, you pick; ther (Gr) a wild animal. metatarsus (between the ankle and the phalanges, metatheria, between the proto and the eu), theriomorphic (having the form of an animal, as in mythology).

Order Didelphimorphia: di (Gr) two; delphus (Gr) the womb; morphe (Gr) shape. Referring to the pouch, or ‘second womb’. dicotyledon, metamorphosis.

Family Didelphidae: di (Gr) two; delphus (Gr) the womb

Didelphis virginiana: di (Gr) two; delphus (Gr) the womb; -iana (L) suffix for belonging to, but we all know that Didelphis doesn’t hail only from Virginia.

Order Dasyuromorphia: dasus (Gr) hairy; oura (Gr) the tail; morphe (Gr) shape. urodele (amphibians that retain their tails throughout life).

Family Dasyuridae: dasus (Gr) hairy; oura (Gr) the tail.

Order Microbiotheria: mikros (Gr) small; bios (Gr) life, manner of living; ther (Gr) a wild animal. microscope, biology.

Family Microbiotheriidae: mikros (Gr) small; bios (Gr) life, manner of living; ther (Gr) a wild animal.

Order Peramelemorphia: pera (L) a pouch; meles (L) a badger; morphe (shape). Yeah, right, Peramelids really look like pouched badgers, was this guy drunk?

Family Peramelidae: pera (L) a pouch; meles (L) a badger

Order Diprotodontia: di (Gr) two; protos (Gr) first; odontos (Gr) a tooth. orthodontics. This pertains to those first two teeth in the lower jaw, the first lower incisors, which are procumbent and make up about 1/8-1/4 of the length of the lower jaw.

Family Phascolarctidae: phaskolos (Gr) a pouch; arktos (Gr) a bear.

Family Macropodidae: makros (Gr) large, long; podos (Gr) the foot. macroscale. Kangaroos are the original Bigfoot!

Family Potoroidae: potoroo (New South Wales) a potoroo.

Family Vombatidae: wombat (New South Wales) a wombat.

Order Paucituberculata: paucus (L) few; tuberculum (L) a tumor, a knob. paucity, tuber (like a potato). This probably refers to their simple teeth- without bumps (thanks to Bert on this one!).

Family Caenolestidae: kainos (Gr) new; lestes (Gr) a robber, but more likely taken to be associated with ancient fossil marsupials. So, you can take this to mean ‘a new guy with ancient origins’.

Order Notoryctemorphia: notos (Gr) of the south; oruktes (Gr) one who digs. Australia being ‘the south’, where this animal digs its digs.

Family Notoryctidae: notos (Gr) of the south; oruktes (Gr) one who digs

Subclass Eutheria: eu- (Gr) prefix meaning typical; ther (Gr) a wild animal.

Order Insectivora: voro (L) devour.

Family Soricidae: soricis (L) the shrew-mouse.

Blarina brevicauda: blarina (Silly) comes from this animal being described in Blair, Nebraska; brevis (L) short; cauda (L) the tail.

Family Talpidae: talpa (L) a mole.

Condylura cristata : kondulos (Gr) a knob; oura (Gr) the tail. This name was given based on a bad drawing. cristatus (L) crested. This refers to the ‘star’ on the nose.

Family Tenrecidae: tandraka (Malagasy, the language of Madagascar) a tenrec.

Family Erinaceidae: erinaceus (L) a hedgehog.

Order Scandentia: scando (L) to climb.

Family Tupaiidae: tupai (Malayan) small and squirrel-like.

Order Macroscelidea: makros (Gr) long; skelidos (Gr) the leg. Refers to the kangaroo-like long hind limbs.

Family Macroscelididae: makros (Gr) long; skelidos (Gr) the leg.

Order Dermoptera: derma (Gr) the skin; pteron (Gr) wings.

Family Cynocephalidae: kunos (Gr) a dog; kephale (Gr) the head.

Order Perissodactyla: perissos (Gr) strange, odd; daktulos (Gr) finger or toe.

Family Tapiridae: tapira (Tupi, a tribe of South American natives that live in the Amazon basin) a tapir.

Family Rhinocerotidae: rhinos (Gr) the nose; keratos (Gr) a horn.

Family Equidae: equus (L) a horse.

Order Artiodactyla: artios (Gr) complete, even; daktulos (Gr) finger or toe.

Suborder Suiformes: suis (L) a pig; forma (L) shape, sort.

Family Suidae: suis (L) a pig.

Family Tayassuidae: tayassu (Brazilian) a peccary; suis (L) a pig.

Family Hippopotamidae: hippos (Gr) a horse; potamos (Gr) a river.

Suborder Tylopoda: tule (Gr) a swelling; podos (Gr) a foot. This refers to the tough pads on the feet.

Family Camelidae: camelus (L) a camel.

Suborder Ruminantia: rumino (L) I chew the cud J .

Family Tragulidae: tragos (Gr) a goat; -ulus (L) a diminutive suffix. Umm, I don’t really thing that mouse deer look like little goats, but whatever.

Family Giraffidae: giraffa (New L) a giraffe, from the Arabic zarafah, which means ‘one who walks swiftly’. You may laugh, but giraffe can actually give a racehorse a run for its money.

Family Antilocapridae: antholops (Gr) an antelope (supposedly further translated into ‘bright eyes’); capra (L) a she-goat.

Family Cervidae: cervus (L) a deer.

Odocoileus virginianus: odous (Gr) a tooth; koilos (Gr) hollow.

Alces alces: alces (L) the elk. Confusing, eh? The Europeans call the moose an elk. What do they call elk, you ask? Why, red deer, of course!

Cervus elaphus: cervus (L) a deer; elaphos (Gr) a deer.

Family Bovidae: bovis (L) an ox.

Order Cetacea: cetus (L) a large sea creature.

Suborder Mysticeti: mustakos (Gr) a moustache; ketos (Gr) a sea monster.

Suborder Odontoceti: odontos (Gr) a tooth; ketos (Gr) a sea monster.

Family Delphinidae: delphin (Gr) a dolphin.

Family Platanistidae: platus (Gr) flat. This refers to their flat beaks.

Order Proboscidea: pro- (Gr) prefix meaning before; bosko (Gr) I feed. I feed out front.

Family Elephantidae: elephantus (L) an elephant.

Order Hyracoidea: hurakos (Gr) a shrew-mouse; -oidea (New L) kind of like. So, they’re like mice, but not really.

Family Procaviidae: pro- (Gr) prefix meaning before; cabiai (Brazilian) rodent, generally come to mean guinea pig. So they’re like mice, but not really, and kind of like early guinea pigs. Uh-huh.

Order Sirenia: seiren (Gr) a mermaid or siren.

Family Trichechidae: trikhos (Gr) hair; ekho (Gr) I have. They have prickly moustaches (not that I’ve ever kissed one…).

Order Lagomorpha: lagos (Gr) a hare; morphe (Gr) shape.

Family Leporidae: leporis (L) a hare. Okay, this isn’t much help, but it might help you to remember that Leporids leap when they run.

Sylvilagus floridanus: silva (L) a wood; lagos (Gr) a hare; -anus (L) suffix meaning belonging to. Okay, so this is a bunny (not a hare, really) of the woods, which is not actually confined in range to Florida.

Family Ochotonidae: ochodona (Mongolian) a pika.

Order Xenarthra: xeno (Gr) strange, different. Refers to the xenarthral processes on the vertebrae, which are additional articulation points on the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae which make for strong articulations and thus a strong spine.

Family Myrmecophagidae: murmekos (Gr) an ant; phagein (Gr) to eat.

Family Bradypodidae: bradus (Gr) slow; podos (Gr) a foot.

Family Dasypodidae: dasus (Gr) hairy, rough; podos (Gr) a foot. Taken to mean ‘rough-footed’.

Order Pholidota: pholidos (Gr) a horny scale.

Family Manidae: manes (Gr) ghosts. Folks are really freaked out by this animals weird looks and nocturnal habits, they think it’s eerie.

Order Tubulidentata: tubus (L) a pipe or tube; -ulus (L) a diminutive suffix; dentis (L) a tooth; -atus (L) a suffix meaning provided with. You can take this to mean ‘tubule teeth’, remember the tubes of dentine?

Family Orycteropodidae: orukter (Gr) a tool for digging; podos (Gr) a foot. These animals spend a lot of time digging ants and termites out of their mounds.

Order Rodentia: rodo (L) to gnaw.

Suborder Sciurognathi: skia (Gr) shade; oura (Gr) tail; gnathos (Gr) the jaw. This name comes from folks thinking that tree squirrels shaded themselves with their fluffy tails.

Family Aplodontidae: aploos (Gr) simple; odontos (Gr) a tooth.

Family Sciuridae: skia (Gr) shade; oura (Gr) tail.

Sciurus niger: skia (Gr) shade; oura (Gr) tail; niger (L) black. This misleading name comes from the fact that Linnaeus first described this animal using a specimen of the less common black morph of the species.

Sciurus carolinensis: skia (Gr) shade; oura (Gr) tail; -ensis (L) suffix meaning belonging to.

Tamiasciurus hudsonicus: tamias (Gr) a hoarder; skia (Gr) shade; oura (Gr) tail; -icus (L) suffix meaning belonging to.

Tamias striatus: tamias (Gr) a hoarder; striatus (L) striped.

Glaucomys volans: glaukos (Gr) silvery; mys (Gr) a mouse; volans (L) flying.

Marmota monax: This is a confusing mix of Italian and Latin that comes out to ‘mountain mouse’.

Spermophilus tridecemlineatus: spermatos (Gr) seed; philos (Gr) loving; tria (L) three; decem (L) ten; lineatus (L) lined.

Family Geomyidae: ge (Gr) earth; mys (Gr) a mouse.

Family Heteromyidae: hetero (Gr) the other; mys (Gr) a mouse. These animals are different from mice.

Family Castoridae: kastor (Gr) a beaver.

Castor canadensis: kastor (Gr) a beaver; -ensis (L) suffix meaning belonging to.

Family Pedetidae: pedetes (Gr) a dancer, a leaper. I’ve heard tell that when these animals leave their burrows in the evening to feed, they take one HUGE leap to vex any predators that may be lying in wait.

Family Dipodidae: di (Gr) two; podos (Gr) a foot. The front legs of these animals are very tiny, making them look (to some) as though they have just two feet.

Zapus hudsonius: za- (Gr) prefix meaning very; podos (Gr) a foot; yet another animal named for the Hudson Bay.

Family Muridae: muris (L) mouse-like.

Subfamily Sigmodontinae: sigma (Gr) S ; odontos (Gr) a tooth.

Peromyscus maniculatus: pera (Gr) a pouch; mys (Gr) a mouse; -iscus (L) diminutive suffix; manicula (L) a little hand –atus (L) provided with. Lil’ pouch mouse with tiny hands!

Subfamily Murinae: muris (L) mouse-like.

Rattus norvegicus: rattus (New L) a rat; -icus (L) a suffix meaning bleonging to. Obviously this rat was first described from a Norwegian specimen.

Mus musculus: mus (L) a mouse; -culus (L) a diminutive suffix. A tiny mouse mouse!

Subfamily Arvicolinae: arvum (L) a field; colo (L) inhabit.

Ondatra zibethicus: ondatra (North American Indian) muskrat; zibethicus (New L) civet-odored.

Microtus ochrogaster: mikros (Gr); otos (Gr) an ear; ochra (Gr) yellow; gastrula (Gr) belly.

Suborder Hystricognathi: hustrikhos (Gr) a porcupine; gnathos (Gr) the jaw.

Family Hystricidae: hustrikhos (Gr) a porcupine.

Family Erethizontidae: erethizo (Gr) I irritate.

Erethizon dorsatum: erethizo (Gr) I irritate; dorsum (L) the back; -atus (L) a suffix meaning provided with.

Family Caviidae: cabiai (Brazilian) rodent, generally come to mean guinea pig.

Family Hydrochaeridae: hudor (Gr) water; khoiros (Gr) a young pig.

Family Dasyproctidae: dasy (Gr) hairy; proktos (Gr) butt. proctology.

Family Chinchillidae: chinchilla (Spanish) a chinchilla.

Family Myocastoridae: kastor (Gr) a beaver. Um, myo actually means ‘a fly’ in Greek, so I think that the myo in this name is a slur of mys, or mouse.

Family Bathyergidae: bathus (Gr) deep; ergo (Gr) I work.

Order Primates: primus (L) first, foremost. We humans certainly are proud of ourselves, aren’t we?

Suborder Strepsirhini: strepsis (Gr) a turning; rhinos (Gr) a nose. Primates in this group have a nose with curvy nostrils and a split upper lip.

Family Lemuridae: lemure (L) ghost. These animals are sometimes thought quite creepy due to their stealthy habits.

Family Loridae: loeris (Dutch) a clown. This name is due to the somewhat goofy appearance of these animals.

Family Galagonidae: golokh (Wolof, western Sudan) a monkey.

Suborder Haplorhini: haplos (Gr) simple. Primates in this group have simple, slit-like nostrils and a complete upper lip.

Family Tarsiidae: tarsos (Gr) tarsal. These animals are notable for their long tarsal bones.

Family Callitrichidae: kalos (Gr) beautiful; trikhos (Gr) hair.

Family Cebidae: kebos (Gr) a monkey.

Family Cercopithecidae: kerkos (Gr) the tail; pithekos (Gr) an ape. Er, actually, these guys aren’t apes, so we shouldn’t call them tailed apes, but we do.

Family Hylobatidae: hule(Gr) a forest; bates (Gr) one that treads.

Family Hominidae: hominis (L) a man.

Order Chiroptera: kheir (Gr) the hand; pteron (Gr) wings.

Suborder Megachiroptera: megas (Gr) big; kheir (Gr) the hand; pteron (Gr) wings.

Family Pteropodidae: pteron (Gr) wings; podos (Gr) the foot. This has something to do with the patagium arising from the foot. Of all the cool, unique things about these bats, they picked that to name it for.

Suborder Microchiroptera: mikros (Gr) small; kheir (Gr) the hand; pteron (Gr) wings.

Family Noctilionidae: notis (L) night; possibly combined with vespertilio (L) evening.

Family Phyllostomidae: phullon (Gr) a leaf; stomatos (Gr) the mouth.

Family Molossidae: molossos (Gr) a wolf-dog.

Family Rhinolophidae: rhinos (Gr) the nose; lophos (Gr) a crest.

Family Vespertilionidae: vestpertilio (L) evening.

Myotis lucifugus: mys (Gr) a mouse; otos (Gr) the ear; lucis (Gr) light; fugio (L) to flee.

Eptesicus fuscus: epten (Gr) I fly; oikos (Gr) a house; fuscus (L) brown. These brown bats often roost under the eaves of houses.

Order Carnivora: carnis (L) flesh; voro (L) I devour.

Superfamily Canoidea: canis (L) a dog; eidos (G) apparent shape.

Family Canidae: canis (L) a dog.

Canis latrans: canis (L) a dog; latro (L) I bark.

Canis lupus: canis (L) a dog; lupus (L) a wolf.

Vulpes vulpes: vulpes (L) a fox.

Family Ursidae: ursus (L) a bear. Ursa major.

Ursus americanus: ursus (L) a bear.

Family Procyonidae: pro- (Gr) a prefix meaning before; kuon (Gr) a dog.

Procyon lotor: pro- (Gr) a prefix meaning before; kuon (Gr) a dog; lotor (New L) a washer.

Family Mustelidae: mustela (L) a weasel.

Taxidea taxus: taxus (New L) a badger; idea (Gr) kind or sort.

Lontra canadensis:

Mustela vison: mustela (L) a weasel; vison (French) the American mink.

Mephitis mephitis: mephitis (L) a noxious smell.

Family Phocidae: phoca (L) a seal.

Family Otariidae: otarion (Gr) a little ear.

Family Odobenidae: odous (Gr) a tooth; baino (Gr) I walk. One who walks with their teeth, sometimes walruses use their teeth to help themselves scoot around.

Superfamily Feloidea: felis (L) a cat; eidos (G) apparent shape.

Family Felidae: felis (L) a cat.

Puma concolor: puma (Peruvian) a cat; concolor (L) the same color.

Lynx lynx: lynx (L) a lynx.

Lynx rufus: lynx (L) a lynx; rufus (L) red.

Family Viverridae: viverra (L) a ferret.

Family Herpestidae: herpestes (Gr) a creeper.

Family Hyaenidae: huaina (Gr) the hyena.

Some references I used in creating this page:

Deblase, A.F, and R.E. Martin. 1981. A manual of mammalogy with keys to families of the world. W.C. Brown company publishers. Iowa.

Gotch, A.F. 1986. Latin names explained. Facts on File. New York.

Guralink, D.B., ed. 1982. Webster’s New World Dictionary. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Jeager, E.C. 1931. Dictionary of Greek and Latin combining forms used in zoological names. Charles C. Thomas. Baltimore.

Jeager, E.C. 1978. A source-book of biological names and terms. Charles C. Thomas. Springfield, Illinois.

Lawlor, T.E. 1979. Handbook to the orders and families of living mammals. Mad River Press, Inc. California.

Nowak, R.M., ed. 1991. Walker’s mammals of the world. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore.

Also helpful:

Jaeger, E.C. 1960. The biologists’ handbook of pronunciations. Charles C. Thomas. Baltimore.