47 Famous Animal Metaphors (A to Z List)

Animal metaphors are metaphors that involve comparing something to an animal by saying it is an animal (even when it isn’t).

Kid Friendly Animal Metaphors

For all the teachers here, this is a hand-picked selection of some kid-friendly metaphors about animals for your class:

  • She’s got eagle eyes
  • That man is a giraffe
  • You are a scaredy cat
  • You’re a cheeky monkey
  • The lady is a chameleon
  • The classroom is a zoo
  • I’m a night owl
  • You’re a busy bee
  • You’re a wise owl
  • I’ve been a busy beaver today

Examples of Animal Metaphors (A-Z List)

MetaphorAnimalMeaning
I’ve been a busy beaver todayBeaverWhen you describe a person as a beaver, you are saying they are busy and hard-working, just like a beaver.
You’re a busy beeBeeYou are busy like a bee
This is the bee’s kneesBeesSomething is excellent!
There will be birds at the barBirdsThere will be girls at the bar
He is a bull in a China shopBullsHe causes a mess.
You are a scaredy catCatYou are a coward
The lady is a chameleonChameleonThe lady changes her identity frequently
The boy is a chickenChickenHe’s a coward
20 Let’s go chat to those chicksChicksLet’s go chat to those girls
She was a deer in headlightsDeerTo call someone a deer in the headlights is to say they were stunned and unsure what to do with themselves when someone addressed them.
The man is a dinosaurDinosaurSomeone is old or their views are outdated
She’s got eagle eyesEagleSomeone has excellent eyesight
30 This is the elephant in the roomElephantThe ‘elephant in the room’ is not literally an elephant, but something that everyone is thinking about but no one is saying.
He’s a fish out of waterFishHe feels very uncomfortable in a situation
She’s a fish in the waterFishShe is an excellent swimmer
You’re a cunning foxFoxYou are cunning like a fox
The frogs are comingFrogThe French are coming
That man is a giraffeGiraffesSomeone is very tall
She was the scapegoatGoatA scapegoat is a person who is sacrificed (often fired from a job) to save everyone else.
It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the industry.GorillaA company that’s the biggest one by far in any industry. For example, Google, for search engines.
He is a war hawkHawksHe is too willing to go to war or escalate conflict.
She’s a workhorseHorseWhen you describe a person as a workhorse, you are saying they are busy and hard-working, just like a working horse.
That man is a stallionHorseTo call a man a stallion is to say he is attractive to women.
He is the sacrificial lambLambThe sacrificial lamb is a person who is sacrificed (often fired from a job) to save everyone else.
She’s mutton dressed as lambLambA person who is “mutton dressed as lamb” is a middle-aged woman dressed in a younger style (this is a British idiom).
He’s a lion of the industryLionA ‘lion of the industry’ is someone who is at the top of the industry, just like how a lion is at the top of their food chain in the jungle.
He’s got the heart of a lionLionA person with a heart of a lion is said to be courageous.
You’re a cheeky monkeyMonkeySomeone is mischievous, usually a child
You’re a stubborn muleMuleYou are stubborn like a mule
I’m a night owlOwlYou like to stay awake at night, like an owl!
You’re a wise owlOwlYou are wise like an owl
He is just a parrot of his bossParrotWhen you call someone a parrot, you mean that they don’t think for themselves and just repeat what other people say.
He’s a peacock around the ladiesPeacockHe is a show-off
You are an absolute pigPigYour are messy or have bad manners
Rich people are pigsPigThey are greedy
That man is a ratRatHe betrays people by sharing information he shouldn’t, usually to the authorities.
That man is a card sharkSharkA card shark is not a real shark. They’re someone who is good at cards.
That man is a loan sharkSharkA loan shark is a person who offers loans at very high interest rates to desperate people.
I’m the black sheep of my familySheepThe black sheep is someone who is different from the rest.
He is a wolf in sheep’s clothingSheepIf you are described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, someone thinks you are a liar or deceptive and will harm others whenever you have the chance.
He is a sloth at workSlothWhen you call someone a sloth, you are saying they are slow like a sloth.
That man is a snakeSnakeTo call someone a snake is to say they are untrustworthy.
40 The ladies are a bunch of turkeysTurkeyWhen you say people are a bunch of turkeys, you mean that they are talking endlessly together.
35 Don’t be a weaselWeaselWhen you describe someone as a weasel, you think they are sneaky and sly, just like how a weasel is sneaky to be able to get into the food in your cupboard.
That boy is a lone wolfWolfA lone wolf is someone who doesn’t have many friends and does things on their own.
The classroom is a zooZooThe children in the classroom are running around like an uncoordinated group of crazy animals!

How to Create Animal Metaphors

Creating your own metaphors is incredibly easy! Simply select a dominant feature of the person you’re describing and think of an animal with similar features (a cheetah is fast, a snail is low, a cat is sneaky).

So, start off with some traits of yours, then link them to an animal, like below:

Your TraitAn Animal with the same TraitThe Metaphor
CleverOwlYou’re a clever owl!
FastCheetahYou’re a cheetah!
GrumpyCatYou’re a grumpy cat!
PlayfulDolphinYou’re a playful dolphin!
StrongGorillaYou’re a strong gorilla!

Advanced Animal Metaphors

Usually, I’ll provide my students with basic animal metaphors (like those above) first. But metaphors come in many more shapes and sizes than you might think.

In fact, metaphors are so common that we can barely communicate without them. You can learn about all the different types of metaphors here.

Below are some complex metaphors that you might not first identify as metaphorical. However, you can see that we’re still substituting non-literal elements and implying they are literal fact:

  • That’s water off a duck’s back – An idiomatic metaphor that refers to the fact that something didn’t hurt you because you are tough.
  • Take her under my wing – Another idiomatic metaphor referring to the idea that you’re like a bird protecting someone by putting your wing over them.
  • I’m having a whale of a time – I’m enjoying myself like a whale does when they splash around in the water.
  • There’s an albatross around my neck – I have a burden.
  • You’re flogging a dead horse – You are trying to achieve something that’s not going to happen.
  • You’re barking up the wrong tree – You’re doing things that won’t help you achieve your goal. You’re like a dog who is chasing a squirrel, but it’s in a different tree!
  • You’re putting the cart before the horse – This means that you’re getting ahead of yourself and doing things wrong. Just imagine if you put a horse behind a cart instead of in front. You probably wouldn’t get very far!

Metaphor or Idiom?

Some metaphors are also idioms. Idioms are metaphors and sayings that are so common that they’re used as sayings on their own.

Most people will hear them and say “yes, people say that all the time”. In fact, idioms are said so often that we don’t need to pause to think about the similarities you’re creating between the animal and the person. Instead, you just intuitively know it.

That’s why idioms are so hard for English language learners to understand. Sometimes, you can’t logically deduce the meaning from the idiom. You need a teacher to help you learn them!

Metaphor or Simile?

A metaphor says something is something else. A simile says something is like something else.

You can quickly change a metaphor into a simile, and a simile into a metaphor. To change a simile into a metaphor, simply replace is like to is.

Go Deeper on Animal Metaphors

Also See: A to Z of Animal Symbolism

Conclusion

Animal metaphors are great for English language learners to start playing around with figurative language. A metaphor can help you be more expressive with your language and create vivid stories.

But the best thing about metaphors is that anyone can create their own animal metaphor! Simply find an animal with similar traits to the person you’re talking about and say the person is that animal.

In fact, many people get animal nicknames based on their similarities. I have a friend named “Rooster” because he walks around with his chest poking out looking like a rooster!

Good luck creating your own animal related metaphors.

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