This is because German is pretty straightforward when it comes to animal vocabulary and often just takes the most obvious traits or characteristics of the animal and meshes it into a word.
Just take German animal names like Nasenbär (anteater) or Nashorn (rhino): It's like somebody asked a toddler to come up with some words for these animals!
In this blog post, we'll go through the most common German animal vocabulary. We'll start with pets & farm animals and then work our way through more exotic animals ("exotic" meaning that you won't find them in German forests) as well as bugs and insects.
Pets & House Animals 🐶
Let's start out with pets. Knowing the word for lion or zebra is great. But:
You're more likely to encounter a dog or a cat in the streets of Berlin (in the parks of Münster rabbits even!), than an anteater or a pot whale.
The German word for pet is Haustier, which literally means 'house animal'. The German words for dog and cat are also useful to know, as cats are the most popular pet in Germany.
Farm Animals 🐮
Next up are farm animals. The expression 'farm animals' is Bauernhoftiere in German.
Young children & toddlers (at least here in Germany) can be obsessed with farm animals. So if you're learning German partly because you'd like to communicate with your 4 year old German nephew, you better memorise these words:
Little Timmy will thank you later.
Forest Animals 🌳
Forest animals take center stage in many German fairy tales & fables. If your goal is to read simple German stories as soon as possible, having a quick glance at these words makes a lot of sense.
Here are the most common German forest animals:
Exotic Animals 🦁
While you won't be able to find that many lions and zebras in the Schwarzwald, it can still be very useful to know the German words for exotic animals.
Now we have good news and bad news for you.
Let's start with the good news: If you have a look at this list, you might notice that it includes a bunch of German-English cognates:
The German word for tiger is simply "der Tiger" and giraffe is just "die Giraffe". While these are spelled exactly the same in German, others are spelled only slightly differently, which makes learning these words a breeze (see 'der Elefant' or 'die Hyäne', for example).
The only bad news is that you will still have to memorize the gender for each noun. 🙈
Now off to the world of bugs, grubs & slugs: German words for insects!
One useful thing to remember in this section is that the word Käfer is masculine: That means that every word that ends in -käfer will also be masculine. So Marienkäfer, Mistkäfer and all the other Käfer use the article "der".
Sea & Water Animals 🦀
Speaking from experience, there are two main reasons why people are learning the German words for sea and water animals:
First, if you're into oceanography, all things nautical or an absolute marine life nerd, then that's obviously a good reason to learn the German names for sea animals. If that's you: great. Here's your list:
It's more likely though that you're learning these words for another reason: You're into sea food and looking at this list makes you thing of Joe's Crab Shack.
If that's you, that's also fair: Bon appetit.
Birds are also often featured in German fables & fairy tales, so it makes sense to know the more common ones.
Note that most birds are masculine, though there are also a few whose grammatical gender is feminine:
PS: In case you're one of those language learners who absolutely loves to read the whole Harry Potter series in every single translation there is: The German word for owl is die Eule, and Harry Potter's owl Hedwig is a Schneeeule in German. Just saying.
We also have a separate blog post, just on the vocabulary for birds in German
Reptiles are the last group of animals we want to have a look at. So that means: snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodiles.
Here's a short list of our cold-blooded friends:
We also have a separate blog post, just on the names for reptiles in German
What animals are masculine and feminine in German?
Now, if you want to remember the grammatical gender of animals in German, that's not always easy. Sometimes it seems very intuitive, but at other times it makes no sense at all.
In German, like many other languages, nouns are either masculine, feminine, or neuter. This grammatical gender is not related to the biological gender of the animal, but it does affect the forms of the article and some of the endings of adjectives (for example).
We recommend to learn the genders for the most important animals and endings (things like -vogel, or -käfer), so that you have solid basis. After that, remember that most birds are masculine, some are feminine, but they're rarely neuter (with chickens being an exception).
Just like with learning gender in general, make sure to not fret it. There is no point in bending over backwards to remember that der Salamander is masculine, if you rarely use this word in real life anyways.