Did you know that murciélago (bat) is the only animal word in Spanish that contains all the vowels in its name without repeating them?
Or that the giraffe’s species name is camelopardalis, which can be translated as “cameleopard”? (You will never see a giraffe the same way again!)
Have you ever heard that an elephant’s pregnancy lasts almost two years?
Or that hippos can run faster than humans?
Animals are awesome!
When we start learning a new language, there are a couple of topics that we normally learn during the first few lessons. One of them is colors; another one is the verb “to be.”
The third one is animals.
In this post, you will learn not only the proper Spanish terms for common animals, but also how to actually use them in a sentence.
Let’s go on a Spanish safari!
Why Context Is Important When Learning About Animals in Spanish
One of the key ways to learn Spanish is by building up your vocabulary, and mastering basic topics like animals is a must.
But we all know learning individual words or long lists of vocabulary can get boring very soon—and honestly, it is not always very effective.
Even learning something as seemingly simple as animal words in Spanish, you can be strengthening your Spanish skills at the same time. All it takes is context.
Instead of studying these words one by one, group them by category, grammar or anything else that makes sense to you.
Then, place them into sentences. Learn how to actually use them in your conversations. This way, you can learn a lot while having fun!
For example, instead of just learning that un elefante means “an elephant,” you could say:
Los elefantes tienen la trompa larga. (Elephants have long trunks.)
Even your Spanish-speaking friends would be amazed and proud of you!
In this post you will learn about all the grammar hidden behind Spanish animals. You will also learn how to name their different parts and main traits in Spanish.
By the end of this article, a sentence like this…:
Los peces respiran por las branquias.
…should not be a mystery for you. You can scroll down to the end of this post to reveal the meaning of this sentence right away, but I invite you to keep on reading for now so that you can figure it out by yourself.
Animals in Spanish and How to Speak About Them
Words, like animals, do not exist in a vacuum. They need grammar.
Do not worry: This is not just the Spanish language trying to make things complicated for you! You only need basic grammar to partake in this safari.
But once you have mastered the basics, you will be able to place animals into orderly sentences like a professional lion wrangler.
The Gender of Animals in Spanish
Spanish is a gender-specific language, which means that it assigns a gender (masculine or feminine) for every single noun.
Sometimes the gender will be obvious, like when you speak about a woman (she) or a man (he). But quite often, especially when talking about animals, things are not so crystal clear.
Animals with 2 regular gender forms
A great number of animals have two forms in Spanish, one for the masculine and one for the feminine. These two forms can be regular (they follow the rules for creating feminine nouns) or irregular (both forms are different).
When you start learning the names of the animals in Spanish, you normally start with the regular subgroup. This group consists of animals which have a masculine form ending in -o and a feminine form ending in -a.
Have a look:
burro / burra — male / female donkey
camello / camella — male / female camel
cerdo / cerda — male / female pig
ciervo / cierva — stag / doe
conejo / coneja — male / female rabbit
elefante / elefanta — male / female elephant
gato / gata — male / female cat
lobo / loba — male wolf / she-wolf
mono / mona — male / female monkey
oso / osa — male bear / she-bear
pato / pata — drake / duck
pavo / pava — male / female turkey (hen)
perro / perra — male / female dog
zorro / zorra — fox / vixen
(You may have already noticed that there are numerous animals in English which distinguish males from females using precisely these two words. We also have this in Spanish, as you will see later.)
There are, of course, a lot more animals with regular names, but these 14 should give you the idea and get you started building your animal vocabulary.
Naturally, you could use the masculine word for a male animal and the feminine word for a female animal. But what happens if you do not know the gender of the animal?
Just remember that when in doubt, the masculine form of a noun can be used as a default, gender-neutral term:
— ¡Qué gato tan bonito! (What a beautiful cat!)
— Es una gata. Se llama Cookie. (She is a female cat. Her name is Cookie.)
— ¿Es aquello un ciervo, o una cierva? (Is that a stag or a doe?)
— No estoy seguro, pero creo que es una cierva. (I’m not sure, but I think it’s a doe.)
Animals with 2 irregular gender forms
The second group of animals with two forms is the so-called “irregular group.”
Just like in English, some animals have different words for the masculine and feminine forms.
There is no way of knowing what these forms will look like, so I recommend that you learn these pairs of animals by heart:
caballo / yegua — stallion / mare
carnero / oveja — ram / ewe
chivo / cabra — billy goat / nanny
gallo / gallina — rooster / hen
jabalí / jabalina — wild boar / soar
león / leona — lion / lioness
tigre / tigresa — tiger / tigress
toro / vaca — bull / cow
Our list of Spanish animal names keeps getting bigger and bigger! That’s 22 different animals (times two forms each) that you have already learned. Study them grouped like this, and you will be a step ahead when it comes time to actually use them in a sentence!
Now that we know about animals with two forms, let’s continue to animals with only one form.
Animals with 1 gender form
There are animals in Spanish that, just like in English, have only one name for both genders.
Two very important words you will have to learn if you want to distinguish between a male and a female are macho (male) and hembra (female).
When learning these, simply study the animal word and its article. You only need to add macho and hembra as necessary in a sentence.
In case you missed it, I just mentioned the word “article.” Yes, even though this group of animals has the same word for both genders, those words can be either masculine or feminine, and you will have to learn each animal with its article.
But before you get lost, let me start from the beginning.
There is a huge group of animals in Spanish that have just one name for both males and females. Here you have some of them:
la ardilla — squirrel
la ballena — whale
la cebra — zebra
la jirafa — giraffe
la hormiga — ant
la mariposa — butterly
la mosca — fly
la pantera — panther
la rana — frog
la tortuga — turtle
el canguro — kangaroo
el cocodrilo — crocodile
el cuervo — crow
el mosquito — mosquito
el topo — mole
el sapo — toad
el hipopótamo — the hippopotamus
el pájaro — bird (please note that la pájara has a completely different meaning from what you probably intend!)
Have a look at this list again and try to find a pattern, any pattern…
If you have said all names ending in -a are feminine and all names ending in -o are masculine, you are very right!
It was not so difficult after all, was it?
Just remember that these animal words only have one form that will never change, regardless of the gender of the animal. It is the words themselves that have a gender.
That means if you want to speak about a male whale, for instance, or a female mosquito (although, why would you!?), you will need to add the words macho and hembra.
Remember, though, that you cannot change the gender of the name, only the gender of the animal. The article will always remain the same, as will the name of the animal:
la cebra (zebra) → la cebra macho (male zebra), la cebra hembra (female zebra)
la mariposa (butterfly) → la mariposa macho (male butterfly), la mariposa hembra (female butterfly)
el cocodrilo (crocodile) → el cocodrilo macho (male crocodile), el cocodrilo hembra (female crocodile)
el mosquito (mosquito) → el mosquito macho (male mosquito), el mosquito hembra (female mosquito)
The trick is to distinguish which animals have feminine versions and which ones do not.
This is why I have grouped the animals the way I did—learning them together already creates context!
Need a bit more context? Use FluentU to see many of these animals used in sentences and learn even more about their grammar and usage.
Animal words that do not end in -o or -a
Spanish would not be, well, Spanish without some kind of oddity.
There is one more group of animals that also has one form and uses the words macho and hembra: animal words that do not end in -a or -o.
This is another case of “you just need to memorize them” since the only way you can learn the gender is by remembering which article the word is paired with.
Here is what that looks like:
el avestruz (ostrich) → el avestruz macho (male ostrich), el avestruz hembra (female ostrich)
el cisne (swan) → el cisne macho (male swan), el cisne hembra (female swan)
el delfín (dolphin) → el delfín macho (male dolphin), el delfín hembra (female dolphin)
la serpiente (snake) → la serpiente macho (male snake), la serpiente hembra (female snake)
Very often, these animals are masculine, but as you can see above, there are a few feminine words to be aware of.
Other animals in this list are:
el buitre — vulture
el colibrí — hummingbird
el lince — lynx
el pez — fish
el rinoceronte — rhinoceros
el tiburón — shark
That is a good-looking list of Spanish animals you have there!
Animals and the Personal “a”
Spanish uses “the personal a” when the direct object of a sentence is a person:
Cuido a mi hermana pequeña. (I look after my younger sister.)
He visto a Juan en el parque. (I have seen Juan in the park.)
Here is something that may surprise you: When talking in Spanish, you should treat pets as if they were people. If they appear in the direct object position, add the personal a like you would do with a person:
Hemos llevado al perro al veterinario. (We have taken the dog to the vet.)
Tengo que darle de comer a mi gato. (I have to feed my cat.)
But remember that this only happens with pets! Animals that are not pets do not take the personal a. Have a look:
He visto un gato en tu tejado. (I have seen a cat on your roof.)
Estoy oyendo un mosquito. (I hear/am hearing a mosquito.)
Features and Characteristics: Using Animals in Spanish Sentences
We now have the grammar stuff behind us and we have learned a lot of different animal names. But I promised you that by the end of this post you would know a lot more about Spanish animals than just their names.
The last part of this post is a long list of parts and characteristics associated with animals.
Each word is paired with a translated sample sentence. Within these sentences, you will find some of the animal friends you just met earlier in the post, and a handful of new animal words.
Can you form your own sentences using the Spanish animal words you have learned in this post?
Here we go!
cuernos — horns
Cuando tienes un problema debes coger el toro por los cuernos. (When you have a problem you have to take the bull by its horns.)
astas / cornamenta — antlers
Las astas se usan como arma en peleas entre ciervos. (Antlers are used as weapons in fights between male deer.)
orejas — ears
El burro hablando de orejas. (Literally: The donkey speaking about the ears. [The pot calling the kettle black.])
plumas — feathers
Los pájaros están cubiertos de plumas. (Birds are covered in feathers.)
colmillos — fangs
Las serpientes usan sus colmillos para inyectar veneno. (Snakes use their fangs in order to inject venom.)
pico — beak
Los pájaros no tienen dientes, tienen pico. (Birds do not have teeth, they have a beak.)
dientes — teeth
Los dientes del tiburón son reemplazados aproximadamente una vez cada ocho días. (Shark teeth are replaced approximately once every eight days.)
bigotes — whiskers
El ser humano es uno de los pocos animales que no tiene bigotes. (Humans are one of the few animals that don’t have whiskers.)
alas — wings
Las alas son un medio de locomoción para pajaros. (Wings are a means of locomotion for birds.)
joroba — hump
Los camellos tienen dos jorobas y los dromedarios, una. (Camels have two humps and dromedaries, one.)
cuello — neck
La jirafa tiene el cuello más largo de todos los animales terrestres vivos. (The giraffe has the longest neck of all living terrestrial animals.)
cola — tail
Los perros muestran sus emociones moviendo la cola. (Dogs show their emotions by moving their tails.)
melena / crin — mane
Los leones tienen melena, pero los caballos tienen crin. (Lions have mane, but horses have mane/horsehair.)
trompa — trunk
Los elefantes llenan sus trompas de agua y luego la vierten en su boca. (Elephants fill their trunks with water and then pour it into their mouths.)
concha / caparazón — shell
Las tortugas son famosas por su caparazón. (Turtles are famous for their shells.)
branquias — gills
Los cangrejos ermitaños pueden respirar en tierra si mantienen sus branquias húmedas. (Hermit crabs can breathe on land if they keep their gills moist.)
escama — scale
Las serpientes tienen la piel cubierta de escamas. (Snakes have their skin covered in scales.)
aletas — flippers / fins
Las focas tienen aletas en lugar de manos. (Seals have flippers instead of hands.)
brazos — arms
Los canguros tienen los brazos muy cortos. (Kangaroos have very short arms.)
tentáculos — tentacles
Los tentáculos del calamar gigante puede crecer hasta los 13 metros. (The tentacles of the giant squid can grow up to 13 meters.)
antenas — antennae
Las antenas son el principal órgano olfativo de las hormigas. (Antennae are the main olfactory organs in ants.)
pezuñas — hooves
Las pezuñas de los caballos deben cortarse regularmente. (Horses’ hooves must be trimmed regularly.)
garras — claws
Las garras del león son retráctiles. (Lion claws are retractable.)
patas / zarpas — paws
Alrededor de la mitad de los perros son zurdos, es decir, prefieren usar la pata izquierda. (About half the dogs are left-pawed, i.e. they prefer using their left paw.)
pelaje — fur
El comercio de pelaje de visón debería estar prohibido. (The mink fur trade should be banned.)
manchas — spots
Mientras más oscuras son las manchas, más vieja es la jirafa. (The darker the spots, the older a giraffe is.)
rayas — stripes
Las rayas de las cebras no son para camuflarse. (Zebra stripes are not for camouflage.)
If you have survived this animalpalooza, congratulations! You are now a master of Spanish animal vocabulary.
At the beginning of the post I promised you that by the end, you would be able to understand the following sentence:
Los peces respiran por las branquias.
I bet you know what this means now! Exactly: fish breathe through their gills.
It looks like something obvious in English, but it requires some animal knowledge to say it in Spanish. Good job!
As always, happy learning!
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