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Animal names . . . you just can't trust them.
Sure, the yellow-bellied sapsucker has a yellow tummy and eats sap. But not all monikers in the critter kingdom are so obvious — and some are complete misnomers.
Here are eight examples of animals whose names have rather unexpected explanations.
There are two types of African rhinoceros — white and black — but you won't be able to tell them apart by color, seeing as both species are a dark brownish-gray. The white rhino's name is commonly said to derive from the Dutch word "wijd," which means wide. And the white rhino's square muzzle is indeed wider than that of the black rhino's more pointed one. But since no written record of the term's true origins exists, we'll probably never know for sure.
Tara Gregg, Animal Photography
The ancestors of this high-energy breed were indeed sheepdogs — but they didn't come from Down Under. Australian Shepherds were developed in the mid-19th century in the United States. It's not really known how the breed got its name, although one guess is that some of the sheep that the dogs herded came from Australia.
The sperm whale's name is based on a misconception about what was once a rather valuable product. Their huge heads contain a waxy substance called spermaceti that early sailors thought was sperm. These whales — including the fictional Moby Dick — were hunted for their spermaceti, which was used to make everything from candles to cosmetics.
While the Baltimore oriole is indeed the state bird of Maryland, the name isn't based on geography — it actually came from the fact that their black and orange coloring resembles that of the coat of arms of the Lord Baltimore family.
The hermit crab isn't a loner like its name implies. They actually live in large colonies in the wild and possess some remarkably sophisticated social behavior. The crabs will line up in front of an empty shell, and when a crab arrives who's a perfect fit for the brand-new home, it goes to the head of the line to move in. The next biggest crustacean takes that crab's vacated shell, and then everyone else exchanges shells in order.
It's not a pig, and it doesn't come from the African country of Guinea. In fact, this small critter originates in the Andes of South America, and some say that "Guinea" could be a corruption of Guyana, which is part of South America. Incidentally, they're also unrelated to pigs, although some South Americans appreciate them in a similar way — guinea pigs are apparently rather tasty.
It may sound like a straightforward description of how this bird makes a living, but oystercatchers actually eat mussels and other shellfish — and only rarely oysters. Plus, the birds aren't exactly catching them, either, since the mollusks are stuck in place.
Like the guinea pig, this mammal is another victim of double misnaming because it's not a lemur, and the animal doesn't fly. Lemurs are primates who live on Madagascar — but the flying lemur is found in Southeast Asia, and it's not a primate. And despite having winglike membranes of skin between their legs, the best these guys can do is glide from tree to tree.
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