Kid’s Tracks: Animal Verbs

The other day I was reading a book (I know, “wonders never cease”) and had to stop when I noticed two animal names used on the same page, but the author wasn’t discussing or mentioning a species. These were wildlife names used as verbs, and it got me thinking (again, “miracle of miracles”) about what other animal names can mean something other than the animal they represent. And how do these verbs relate to the species’ behavior, if at all?

For instance, if you quail in response to my question, it means you figuratively shrink away, recoil or are afraid of it. In New Mexico, we have four species of quail (scaled, Gambel’s, northern bobwhite and Montezuma or Mearns’) and they all will hide in the face of danger. That or flush at your feet and nearly give you a heart attack.

If you grouse at the chance to add to your vocabulary, it means you grumble or complain about it. I don’t know that dusky grouse do much grumbling, but it is certainly cold enough for me to complain in their sub-alpine, mountainous environment.

Ferreting (to find and bring information to light) seems to fit with its namesake animal very well. Black-footed ferrets live in burrows and hunt primarily for rodents like prairie dog, mice and rats. Their furious searching of nooks and crannies would make any detective proud.

It’s winter, so there’s no better time to squirrel something away. That is, “to put something secretively away for future use,” something these rodents do in preparation for lean times of the year, by storing acorns and other seeds for later. “Squirreling” can also mean moving restlessly and inquisitively, which is exactly how you might act when you can’t find the snacks you squirreled away. New Mexico is home to several types of squirrel, including Abert’s (or tassle-eared), ground, gray, red and fox.

If you’re the type to dive headlong into a project and not let up until it’s finished, then you’ve “beavered away” at your task. There is no surprise where that description fits the animal. Beavers make dams. It’s what they do and they move tirelessly at it until they’ve accomplished their goal.

If you’ve thought of more animal verbs – and there are a zoo’s worth more – please don’t badger me with them, by urging, pestering or harassing. I’ll just weasel out of your demands for their inclusion, by avoiding the obligation.

And if you are able to outfox those efforts, using cunning, deception or trickery, don’t crow (gloat or boast) about your successful rooking (cheating, fleecing or swindling). That wouldn’t be very human of you.

Top to bottom: Beaver dam, Montezuma quail, Dusky grouse, Black-footed ferret.

About Jeremy Lane

Jeremy Lane was the Public Information Officer in the Southwest Area for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.