Lucas Fink

TOEFL Vocabulary: Animal Words

Update: Once you’re read this post, you can review these words with the help of David Recine’s mnemonic comics: Magoosh Comics: Reviewing Animal Words.

The TOEFL loves animals. Okay, that’s a little ambiguous. The TOEFL doesn’t love animals the same way my coworker Rachel loves cats. It’s more scientific than that. Specifically, the TOEFL texts and lectures often include one topic about a species of animal. Very often that text or lecture is about the animal’s behaviour, evolution, population, or biology—that is, how the animals act, how they’ve changed over time, how many of them there are in which places, or how their bodies work.

Below are five words that are commonly used in the context of zoology (the study of animals)—words you might not use in everyday English, but are very possibly going to show up on your test.



Since I used this word already above, and it’s a pretty common word, it’s a good word to start this list with. There are a couple different meanings of “population” that are important for the TOEFL. First, it can mean the number of animals (or people) in a certain area. The population of Tokyo is over 13 million, for example. That’s 13 million people; I don’t know how many animals there are. The other meaning is the actual group of people or animals, not just the number.

TOEFL Example: Habitat destruction has broken many animal populations into smaller, isolated communities, which can cause problems for reproduction and growth.



If you didn’t know this word when I used it in the example sentence for “population” above, then you’re in luck. Let’s define it here.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

“Environment” is a more common word which, in some sentences, can mean the exact same thing as “habitat.” Both refer to the place where a certain animal lives. It includes the surrounding plants, the weather, and the other animals. The biggest difference between the two words is that “environment” can be used to mean the whole world or even a place where nothing lives—it’s not just about the animalswhereas “habitat” refers only to a specific place where a specific animal lives.

TOEFL Example: As settlers travelled across the U.S., they moved through the bison’s ideal habitat, prairie, and so they had a lot of opportunities to hunt.



If you live in a place that sees snow in the winter, you know where many people travel when it gets cold: sunny places. Those people aren’t so different from many animals. When the winter comes on, they move to another area where it’s warmer and there’s more food.

In a sense, “to migrate” just means “to move,” but it’s used specifically when many, many animals are moving at one time and for a specific purpose.

TOEFL Example: The blue whale migrates further each year than does any other whale—or for that matter, any other animal—travelling over 12,000 miles annually.



There are many ways to judge success as a human. For animals, it’s much simpler—don’t die. If you live to an old age and have many children, you are a successful animal. (Clearly, some people would say this is true of humans, too.)

That is what “thriving” is, especially the part about having many children. When a species thrives, the population grows.

TOEFL Example: Although humans are afraid of the health hazards caused by continued radioactivity at Chernobyl, many animal species are now thriving in the abandoned cities and towns.


Predator / Prey

These two words aren’t related in their roots, but the meaning are closely connected. If you know one word, you should know the other, too.

A “predator” is an animal which hunts and eats other animals. Usually, it’s used in the context of the specific animal that is hunted. For example, you might say that prairie dogs have many predators.

“Prey” is what the predator hunts. Prairie dogs are prey for many different predators.

TOEFL Example: When a species that serves as both predator and prey in a certain habitat disappears, the effects can be significant, as its prey will thrive, and the population of its predators will shrink.



  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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