25 Animals That Were Named Totally Wrong

An alert honey badger

In Australia, the Ibis bird, often seen scavenging for food around trash cans, has earned the endearing nickname “bin chicken.” This humorous moniker derives from our local term for trash cans, “rubbish bins.” However, it's important to note that the bird's official name is the Ibis, scientifically known as Threskiornithinae. While we recognize that the bird is not a chicken, this slang term has become widely adopted to describe this feathered creature. The evolution in terminology is understandable, yet it raises questions about the rationale behind official species names. Here are some of the most misleading animal names. 

1. Killer Whale

Orca
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Killer Whale, aka orca, is a highly intelligent and social marine mammal often associated with aggression and predation. Despite its name, these marine mammals are not whales at all but are the largest dolphin species. Orcas are part of the Delphinidae family, which consists of bigger species that are commonly known as “whales.”

2. Red Panda

Red Panda
Image Credit: Mathias Appel – CC0/Wiki Commons.

The Red Panda is a charming, tree-dwelling mammal known for its distinctive russet fur and bushy tail. Although it shares part of its name with the Giant Panda bear, they are not closely related, causing potential confusion.

3. Mantis Shrimp

Mantis Shrimp
Image Credit: University of California, Berkeley/Wiki Commons/Public Domain.

The Mantis Shrimp is a fascinating marine crustacean famous for its vibrant colors and powerful claw strikes. Despite the name, Mantis Shrimps are unrelated to actual shrimp and have distinct characteristics, making their name somewhat misleading.

4. American Buffalo

American Buffalo
Image Credit: Jack Dykinga/Wiki Commons.

The American Buffalo, also known as the Bison, symbolizes the American West and its vast plains. Although commonly referred to as Buffalo, they are actually Bison and not true buffalo species. This misnomer likely arose due to early settlers' associations with Asian and African Buffalo.

5. Electric Eel

Electric Eel
Image Credit: Steven G. Johnson, Own Work – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

The Electric Eel is an astonishing aquatic creature capable of generating electric shocks for hunting and self-defense. While it is indeed an eel-like fish, the name might lead some to believe it's related to true eels, which it isn't—it's actually a type of knife fish. 

6. Horned Toad

Horned Toad
Image Credit: Millie Basden – CC BY 4.0/Wiki Commons.

These guys aren't evenly closely related to pond-dwelling amphibians. The Horned Toad is a spiky desert-dwelling lizard with a distinctive appearance and behavior. However, their body shape earned them their misleading name.

7. Bearcat

Bear Cat
Image Credit: Greg Hume, Own Work – CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

Is it a bear? Is it a cat? It's neither. The Bearcat, also known as the Binturong, is a tree-dwelling mammal with a prehensile tail and—apparently—a unique scent reminiscent of buttered popcorn. This guy got his name from an approximate translation of the Chinese word for the creature. 

8. Jellyfish

Jellyfish 1
Image Credit: Kevin Raskoff/Wiki Commons.

I remember unwittingly chopping a jellyfish and sitting it on my sand castle at the beach as a kid. While they indeed resemble jelly, they don't resemble—nor are they related to fish—in the slightest. 

9. Flying Lemur

Flying Lemur rotated
Image Credit: Lip Kee Yap – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

The Flying Lemur, or Sunda Colugo, is an arboreal gliding mammal with a remarkable ability to travel between trees. Despite its name, the Flying Lemur is not a lemur—and technically, it doesn't fly; it glides. 

10. Maned Wolf

Maned Wolf
Image Credit: Jonathan Wilkins, Own Work – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

When is a wolf not a wolf? When it's a Maned Wolf. The Maned Wolf is a striking canid with a tall, slender build and honestly looks more like a fox on stilts than anything else. These mammals are native to South America.

11. Honey Badger

Honey Badger
Image Credit: Sumeet Moghe, Own Work – CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

The Honey Badger is a fearless and tough carnivore renowned for its daring nature and ability to tackle formidable opponents. Honey Badgers are not closely related to badgers; in fact, they're more closely related to weasels. The misnomer can lead to misconceptions about their behavior.

12. Whiptail Scorpion

Whiptail Scorpion
Image Credit: CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

This “scorpion” is actually a type of arachnid, not a scorpion. The term “whip scorpion” is derived from their resemblance to true scorpions and their possession of a whip-like tail. When threatened they can discharge an unpleasant, vinegar-smelling liquid that contains acetic acid, which earned them the additional name of “vinegaroon.”

13. Mountain Chicken

Mountain Chicken
Image Credit: Tim Vickers/Wiki Commons.

Perhaps the people who gave this amphibian its name were unknowingly trying to deter future poachers since it's now on the critically endangered list. Theories as to the odd name include that it's big enough to be a meal or that it makes a call that sounds a bit like a squawking chicken.

14. Mountain Goat

Mountain Goat
Image Credit: CC BY 3.0/Wiki Commons.

While this critter does indeed look like a goat on steroids, it's related to the same genus as antelopes, gazelles, and cattle. We can understand where the confusion in the naming process came from with this one. 

15. King Cobra

King Cobra
Image Credit: Michael Allen Smith – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

This snake is technically not a real cobra. It's the sole member of the Ophiophagus genus species. However, its resemblance to a cobra and its ability to kill cobras seems to have earned it the name King Cobra.

16. Whale Shark

Whale Shark
Image Credit: Zac Wolf, Own Work – CC BY-SA 2.5/Wiki Commons.

The Whale Shark is a massive filter-feeding shark, the largest fish in the world. Despite its name, the Whale Shark is not a whale. The name likely comes from its size and filter-feeding behavior, which resembles some whales.

17. Guinea Pig

Guinea Pig
Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Guinea Pigs are small, domesticated rodents kept as pets. Guinea Pigs are not pigs, nor are they remotely related to the swine kind. The origin of the name is unclear, with some saying it comes from them being sold for “one guinea” in the UK and some saying the word “guinea” means from far away, and since the rodents' origin starts in South America, this might fit too. 

18. Flying Fox

Flying Fox Bat
Image Credit: CSIRO/Wiki Commons.

Can you imagine the havoc to backyard henhouses if foxes could fly? Luckily, the Flying Fox is a bat, not a fox, and their diet consists of flowers and fruit—a menace to backyard orchards more than chickens. Their little furry faces resemble foxes, which is how they probably got the name.

19. Seahorse

Sea Horse
Image Credit: CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

I don't know about you, but the first time I saw a real seahorse, I was utterly disappointed—they're tiny. Cartoons had made me think they were large. Named for the horse shape of their heads, this marine species is just an unusual type of fish. 

20. Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog
Image Credit: Aaron Siirila – CC BY-SA 2.5/Wiki Commons.

While you may imagine a dog-like critter wandering around the prairies, you might get a shock—like me—the first time you see a Prairie Dog. This rodent resembles a gopher and is a type of ground squirrel. It's said they get their name from the warning call they make that sounds like a dog's bark. 

21. Koala Bear

Koala Bear
Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

These furry Australian marsupials are not bears at all. This reference came from European settlers thinking they resembled bears, so the name stuck. However, when you meet a koala, watch their behavior, and understand their herbivorous diet, their resemblance to bears seems relatively remote.

22. Flying Dragon

Flying Dragon
Image Credit: Charles J. Sharp, Own Work – CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

You may be disappointed if you think your fantasy of seeing a Game of Thrones dragon in real life could become a reality. A Flying Dragon is a type of lizard. Native to Southeast Asia, this species has winglike skin extensions that allow it to glide rather than fly.

23. Blindworm

Blindworm
Image Credit: Holger Krisp, Own Work – CC BY 3.0/Wiki Commons.

This thing doesn't resemble a worm. It looks like a snake but is, in fact, a legless lizard. It's not even blind—that part of its name refers to the critter having tiny eyes. It's just a poor naming choice all-round for this guy. 

24. Mayfly

Mayfly
Image Credit: Richard Bartz, Own Work – CC BY-SA 2.5/Wiki Commons.

This aquatic insect gets its name from the fact that they typically emerge during May, but, depending on the environment, they can come out at any time of year—something that's occurring more often lately. They're an ancient species related to dragonflies and damselflies. 

25. Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird
Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

This bird's scientific name is Tyrannus tyrannus—basically, because the winged critter is a bit of a tyrant. They will protect their territory from perceived threats, no matter the size of the threat—these guys have been known to attack snakes and large hawks. However, they can be found all over the US, making their moniker of ‘Eastern' redundant.

Author: Ree Winter

Title: Journalist

Expertise: travel, food, history

Bio:

  • Expertise: Travel, History, Food
  • Education: Monash University, Australia
  • Over 400 articles published in newspapers, magazines, and across the web

Ree Winter is a versatile journalist hailing from Australia and now making New Orleans her home. Ree's passion for solo travel shines through as she expertly tracks down fantastic flight deals and accommodations, sharing her extensive travel experiences with readers. With a Master's degree in Journalism and a Bachelor's degree featuring double majors in history and literature, she brings a unique blend of skills to her work. Ree's historical expertise extends to the world of architectural history, where she has worked as a tour guide in historic house museums. But her journey doesn't stop there; she's even delved into the art of coffee as a barista, running a coffee van at events and markets, making her a genuine connoisseur of coffee preparation. Today, Ree channels her insights and expertise into sharing these topics with readers at Wealth of Geeks.