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Here’s a collection of wildlife where, remarkably, a WW or W-W features in their names. (And I don' t mean in separate words, like willow warbler and yellow wagtail.)

Does a double-W crop up in English outside natural history? Not often, we suspect, putting aside the www of the worldwide web and other initials such as WWF. It must need a special kind of compound noun that wildlife names seem to prompt; yet we think this is the first time they've been collected together.

Classically, it’s the wingless female glow-worm that glows from the underside of the abdomen, to attract the winged males.

But also, according to www.glowworms.org.uk: “Larvae, however, have smaller light-emitting organs and can twinkle briefly. Male glow worms have the same ability, but it is rare to see them glow.” They are beetles, not worms, despite the name.


Glow-worm (Chris Gibson)


Swallow-wort in the French Pyrenees

Swallow-wort Vincetoxicum hirundinaria is found throughout much of Europe and is often quite common in France, yet is absent from the UK. Like other members of the milkweed family, it is poisonous, so ‘toxic’ in Vincetoxicum reminds you that you shouldn’t swallow it. Yet hirundinaria also invokes swallow the bird, a hirundine.

Everyone knows the slow-worm as a legless lizard, though few of us see it other than rarely. An exception is Honeyguider Stan Lovett, who can see them almost any time when they are not hibernating simply by lifting one of several sheets of corrugated iron placed to encourage them in his Salisbury garden.

Slow-worms (Stan Lovett)



Sawwort is a knapweed-like composite of old grassland. The name comes from the saw-toothed leaves.

Sawwort (Chris Gibson)

Yellowwoods are trees from the native Afromontane forest in South Africa. Sometimes the spectacular specimens known as ‘big trees’ become a draw for visitors and have cultural as well as biological value. On our Garden Route holiday we found both Outeniqua yellowwood Podocarpus falcatus and Real yellowwood Podocarpus latifolius.

Outeniqua yellowwood, South Africa's Garden Route

Outeniqua yellowwood

Saw-wing swallows are a group of African hirundines. Somehow I forgot this w-w when I first prepared this page, despite having seen several black saw-wings on Honeyguide's holiday in the Garden Route and Addo Elephant NP in 2009.

Black saw-wing (photo from Wikipedia)

Northern saw-whet owl. This North American species was suggested by a BBC Radio Norfolk listener. when I asked for ww ideas. So far as I know, there isn't a southern saw-whet owl.

Northern saw-whet owl (photo from Wikipedia).

Back to nature notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Chris Durdin, October 2010

Photos by Chris Gibson, Stan Lovett and Chris Durdin (and, right, from www.bethelmainesnowwoman.com) ... "At 113'7" tall, the World's Tallest Snowman was created in Bethel, Maine, in 1999. In 2008, the community set another world record... building the World's Tallest Snowwoman at 122'12."

Can you think of other WW or W-W examples? Please email them to Chris here

Spellings on this page are those most commonly used, but they are not consistent: you may see, for example, slowworm or slow-worm.


Yellow-wort (photo by Chris Gibson) is a distinctive and elegant member of the gentian family found in dry, grassy places, typically on lime. Its scientific name Blackstonia perfoliata celebrates the London apothecary and botanist John Blackstone (1712-53); perfoliata refers to how the stem appears to grow through the gripping leaves.


Cow-wheats are a family of semi-parasitic flowers in the figwort family. Common cow-wheat (photo by Chris Gibson) is a rather unimpressive flower, but notable in the UK as the larval food plant for the scarce heath fritillary, though they can also feed on plantains, speedwells and foxgloves.

And finally, yellowwoods ...

Outeniqua yellowwood

Outeniqua yellowwood Podocarpus falcatus above. The sign says it is 650+ years old, 39m tall, crown width 31.5m, circumference of bole 7.5m, bole length 22m and contents of bole 61.1 cubic metres.

Outeniqua yellowwood

Postscript 1: Honeyguiders David Bennett and Jenny Loring rose to the challenge. David adds powwow (native North American origin, of course) and hollowware (a type of pottery). Jenny searched ww on the Oxford dictionary website which adds willowware and qawwal. Click here to find out what the latter means and for the full result ... though the OED gives some initials (like WWF) that don't really count and only has two of our seven wildlife examples. We hope this helps Scrabble players!

Postscript 2: I almost forgot: there's ‘bow-wow-wow-wow.’ in Mike Love's backing vocals for the Beach Boys' Help me Rhonda. Does that count? See our backing singers web page.

Postscript 3 is the addition of saw-wing swallow and saw-whet owl - bringing our total of wildlife WWs to nine. I've rejected the previously mentioned 'bow wave' as really it's two words.

Postscript 4: on a seasonal note, does snowwoman count?


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