Swift goats, swamp donkeys, raiding cows: Nicknames abound for Wyoming’s wild creatures

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By Mark Heinz, Public Lands and Wildlife Reporter

A flock of swift goats leaves a cloud of dust in their wake as they traverse the parched basin, while a swamp donkey basks in the vegetation along a stream bed high on the nearby mountain slopes.

Along a road in a wooded valley on the other side of the mountains, nosy tourists test the patience of raiding cows. And from its perch in an alpine area between basin and valley, a whistling pig diligently watches for predators near its den.

If they could understand those nicknames, the creatures associated with them might take offense. Or fun. It is impossible to say.

Formally, they are given the more dignified titles of Pronghorn, Shrias Moose, American Plains Bison, and Yellow-Bellied Marmot. (OK, maybe the “yellow belly” part isn’t all that worthy.)

Other animals, such as the moose, may be misnamed, depending on perspective.

The need for speed (goats)

Spend enough time with hunters and you’ll likely hear animals commonly referred to as antelope called “swift goats.”

So, are these animals members of the antelope family or the goat family?

Trick question: they are not. They do not belong to any family. At least none are still alive.

Pronghorns are a species unique to North America. At a time in the distant past, probably even before the first humans arrived in what is now Wyoming, they had some direct relatives. But those other species have since gone extinct, leaving the pronghorn as the only survivors.

They are built to survive. They have hollow fur that helps keep them cool during the scorching summers and warm during the frigid winters in their range. His vision is as good as that of a human looking through 10x binoculars.

And they are possibly the fastest land animals in the world. African cheetahs can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour in short bursts, considerably faster than the pronghorn’s estimated top speed of about 55 mph. However, pronghorn can maintain their top speed for long periods and over several miles. So they would leave Cheetas in the dust in any race that lasted more than a few seconds.

That, along with what could charitably be described as a goat face, has led to perhaps their most popular nickname, “swift goats.”

“Antelope” is the most common informal name for them; even the Wyoming Fish and Game Department uses that title in its hunting regulations.

It is speculated that when early pioneers of European descent began seeing the creatures as they moved into the vast lands of the West, they did not know what to call them. Images of various species of antelope native to Africa probably came to mind, and the name stuck.

big and confused deer

“Swamp donkey” is a fairly common colloquialism for moose, probably due to their strange faces and huge, floppy ears.

Moose are the largest member of the deer family, which in Wyoming also includes white-tailed and mule deer, as well as elk. (Well, moose might actually be moose, and moose might not properly be called a moose after all, but more on that in a bit.)

The subspecies native to Wyoming is the Shiras Moose. They are smaller than Alaskan moose, but still impressive. And certainly nothing to play with. Moose are known to be generally fearless, and cows can get downright vicious if they feel a threat to their young.

The term “moose” is believed to have originated from “moosh,” which in the indigenous Canadian Innu dialect translates to “peeler and eater of bark,” according to the online edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.

Except in Europe, they are known as “moose”, and the European cousins ​​of what Americans call “moose” are “red deer”.

The European term “moose” likely goes back to Old English and/or German words for “large deer,” according to Britannica. That’s why swamp donkeys… err, moose, are called moose on that side of the pond.

Meanwhile, the creatures known to Native Americans as “Wapiti” are called “moose” here. Probably, again, because European explorers called them “elk” when they first encountered them, because that was their old term for “large deer.” Which is what they are.

Who are you calling “Whistle Pig”?

Yellow-bellied marmots are frequently called “rock chucks,” at least in this region. Although they go by a variety of nicknames. They may occasionally be called “whistle hogs” in Wyoming, but that term seems to be more commonly used in the South for groundhogs.

Wyoming groundhogs are also sometimes called “groundhogs,” even though they are not. Woodchucks, which populate the western states, and groundhogs, found in the east and south, are closely related, but they are not the same species. They are among the largest members of the squirrel family.

The term “chuck” is frequently attached to both bugs, such as “rock chuck” or “wood chuck”. It’s probably due to the sound of their alarm calls, according to Marmot Burrow’s website and University of California biologist Daniel T. Blumstein.

“Assault Cows”

And lastly, we come to the buffalo…no wait, bison.

These massive and iconic creatures are better called plains bison. They are related to the American wood bison, which has a more northerly wooded range.

They are not related to the royal buffalo, which includes the Asian water buffalo and the African Cape buffalo.

As for how buffaloes came to be called, it seems confused European explorers are at fault again.

“The word buffalo is derived from the French “boeuf,” a name given to bison when French fur trappers working in the US in the early 17th century saw the animals,” the published information says. online by the National Park Service. “The word boeuf comes from what the French knew as true buffalo, animals that lived in Africa and Asia. Although this name was a mixture of two different animals, many people still know bison as buffalo today.”

The online site “Yellowstone: Invasion of the Idiots,” founded by two Yellowstone-area residents to chronicle the misadventures of tourists, comes up with a much better moniker. It is based on the bison sometimes losing its temper and beating up reckless tourists who have invaded the bison’s personal space: “High Capacity Assault Cow”.

Courtesy: Invasion of the Yellowstone Idiots

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