Glossary of terms



Biology: the study of living things. This includes all five kingdoms of living things on our planet. Those are animals, plants, fungus, protista (single and mutilcellular algae and flagella and monera (single and colonial bacteria and blue-green algae). Biologists- the scientist who study living things specialize in all of these different kingdoms.

Habitat: is the natural home of animal, plant or other organism. Habitats come in many different sizes, climates and landscapes. Habitats can be small or large. Every animal and plant has a specific place in its habitat. They fill a need in that area.

Adaptation: an adaptation is when an animal or plant has a characteristic that helps them survive in their environment better. Adaptations include things such as camouflage, behavioral traits and the structure of an animal or plant. Adaptations can be learned or inherited.

Ecosystem: is a group of living organisms (both plants and animals) that exist in one area together. Ecosystems include the soils, water and atmospheres that these organisms share. Ecosystems can be very small to vast areas, such as savannas. The organisms that exist together in an ecosystem are dependent on each other to survive.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth. Biodiversity exists on many different levels and in many different habitats. Biodiversity can include giraffes, elephants and all the gazelles on the savannas in Africa. Biodiversity can also include the small animals in a tide pool. We could go on on about biodiversity. When scientists study habitats they often look at the biodiversity of that habitat. If a habitat has many kinds of animals and plants, it can mean that habitat is healthy.

Camouflage: an animal’s appearance allows them to blend in with their surroundings.  Camouflage can take on different forms, with size, shape, texture and most often color. Camouflage is a defense mechanism that allows animals to hide from predators. It can also be used to help conceal ambush predators while they wait for their prey!

Mimicry: this is when one animal copies the behavior or appearance of another animal to help protect them from predators.

Prehensile: the ability to grab or hold something by wrapping around it. Most of us think of tails when we think of prehensile limbs- such as monkeys (only monkeys that live in Central and South America have prehensile tails). Other appendages and body parts can be prehensile too- like a giraffe’s tongue or the lip of a black rhino.

Vertebrate: an animal that has a backbone! Animals that fall in to this category include bony fish, cartilaginous fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians!

Invertebrate: an animal without a backbone. There are more invertebrates than vertebrates on the planet. Invertebrates are cold-blooded. Sometimes they have an exoskeleton, sometimes they don’t. They include insects, cnidarians (jellies, coral), cephalopods (octopus, squid) and sponges.

Endoskeleton: an internal skeleton of an animal. Vertebrates, animals with a backbone usually have an endoskeleton and that includes mammals, reptiles and fish!

Exoskeleton: the hard outer covering or external skeleton of an animal. Animals such as arthropods, insects and crustaceans have exoskeletons. Exoskeletons help protect the soft bodies of these animals. Shells are considered exoskeletons.

Endothermic: refers to animal whose body maintains its own body temperature (usually above the temperature of its surroundings). Endothermic animals must intake calories every day to help them maintain this body temperature. All mammals and birds are endothermic. Another word for endothermic is warm blooded.

Exothermic: refers to animal who absorbs heat from its surrounding habitat. Exothermic animals usually get energy by warming themselves in the sun. Reptiles are exothermic.

Aquatic: an animal that lives in or near water! There are many animals who call the world’s oceans and bodies of fresh water their homes. Many of those animals like fish must live in water to survive.

Terrestrial: animals or plants that live on or in the land. Many insects, animals and loads of plants call the ground their home. These creatures cannot or do not climb. They find shelter in bushes, burrows or vegetation.

Arboreal: term for animals that live in trees. Many different animals live on or amongst trees, such as insects, primates, birds and reptiles. Trees provide shelter and food for all these animals. Each animal lives in a different part of the tree. Some animals build nests in trees, like birds and orangutans. Others live in hollow holes. And still some animals live on the leaves.

Nocturnal: being active at night. Animals that are nocturnal are primarily active during the evening and night and sleep during the day. Animals have many reasons to be nocturnal; it helps protect them from predators, their prey may be nocturnal too and it helps them avoid the heat of the day.

Diurnal: being active during the day. Many animals are active during the day, including many reptiles who bask in the sun for warmth and energy.

Crepuscular: an animal is active during twilight- dawn or dusk. Many animals are most active during the dawn and dusk, like lions. These times are great to avoid the heat of the day. Also it’s a good time for animals who often are prey to hide in the darker light.

Carnivore: a carnivore is an animal that eats meat. There are many different animals that eat meat as the primary source of their diet. There are even plants that are carnivores.

Herbivore: an animal that only eats vegetation and or plant material. Ellie and Edmond are both herbivores! Herbivores come in all shapes and sizes! They can eat everything from grass, roots, bark, seeds, flowers and fruits.

Omnivore: an animal that eats both plants and animals. Omnivores are a very diverse group of animals that include; raccoons, crows, pigs, some monkeys and some species of fish!

Insectivore: a mammal or plant that primarily eats insects.

Frugivores: animals who eat mostly fruit as their main diet.

Folivore: an herbivore that specializes in eating leaves. Some examples of folivores include hoatzin, pandas, koalas, giraffes, sloths, caterpillars and iguanas.

Nectarivore: an animal whose diet primarily consists of nectar. Nectarivores include mammals like bats, insects like butterflies and birds like hummingbirds

Albino: an animal that has a genetic mutation that causes them to have no pigmentation or color. Albino animals are all white and usually have pink eyes. Albino animals often do not survive well in the wild, as they lack the camouflage they need to help them survive.

Leucistic: animals that have a genetic mutation that causes them to lose some color- but not all, like in albino animals. Leucistic animals can have colored eyes or light stripes or color on parts of their body.


Hibernation: a state of rest when animal’s heart rate and breathing slows and their body temperature drops.

Echolocation: the location of an object or prey using sound to reflect off that object to determine distance, size and shape. Bat can determine an object as thin and fine as human hair using their echolocation.

Poisonous/Poison:  a toxic substance that is administered through touch or being ingested.  Animals that are poisonous use it as a defense mechanism.

Venomous: an animal is venomous when they have a toxin that is injected, by a bite or sting.


Endangered: when an animal is on the brink of extinction. Animals that are at risk of being endangered are listed by the IUCN under these categories: least concern, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered.

Extinct: an animal that is no longer in existence.

Conservation: the preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife.


Symbiosis: interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.

    -Mutualism: symbiosis that is beneficial to both organisms involved. (Ex- anemones and clownfish)

     -Commensalism: a relationship between individuals of two species in which one species obtains food or other benefits from the other without either harming or benefiting the latter. (Ex- cleaner shrimp and sea turtle)

      -Parasitism: relationship in which one organism (the parasite) benefits and the other (the host) is generally harmed. Parasites derive nutrition from their host and may also gain other benefits such as shelter and a habitat in which to grow and reproduce. (Ex- fleas)


Viviparous: when an animal gives birth to live young that develop in the body. (Ex- mammals, some sharks)

Oviparous: when an animal gives birth by laying eggs. (Ex- birds, platypus)

Ovoviviparous: when an animal gives birth by incubating eggs inside the body. (Ex- some snakes, sharks)

Marsupials: animals that are born very premature and develop in a pouch outside of the body.



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