I am looking for animal-based alternate expressions to the 'black swan' for a rare event (or a rare item, even though that's not precisely what black swan signifies).

I believe I have heard other (and possibly more humorous) animals mentioned in this kind of 'rarity' context, but can't recall which. Slang/idioms/colloquialisms ok, some humor preferred (in contrast to 'black swan' connotations).


4 Answers 4


One obvious (thanks to Moby-Dick) term for something rare and elusive is white whale—although the albino form of any animal (except laboratory rats and mice) that is normally colored can be used as a metaphor for rareness. For a discussion of rare albino whales (as opposed to mostly white beluga whales) see National Geographic's rather paradoxically title article "How Did Rare White Whale Spotted Off Australia Get That Way?"

Another animal with a famously rare color phase is the blue lobster.

  • I like that white whales do exist but are rare, unlike (to the best of my knowledge) flying pigs. White crow is a candidate for the same reason. White whale has a bit of a negative/adversarial (Moby Dick) connotation I might try to avoid, but otherwise it's very close. REALLY liking the blue lobster notion - perhaps not as well-known culturally, but has a soupçon of inherent humor and might be perfect in my context. Thank you!
    – Vaughn
    Oct 29, 2015 at 16:43

Very broadly used idiom is "when pigs fly" to mean:

This phrase is used presumably due to the unlikelihood that pigs will ever evolve wings.
(idiomatic) never


You could consider using a "flying pig".

  • And tap-dancing elephant.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 28, 2015 at 19:07
  • @HotLicks How about "skiing rhino"?
    – user140086
    Oct 28, 2015 at 19:09
  • Now it's just getting silly. ;-)
    – Vaughn
    Oct 28, 2015 at 20:56
  • @Vaughn Nope. It is not silly.
    – user140086
    Oct 28, 2015 at 21:00
  • My first thought was that I nearly always hear this one as pigs might fly, so I checked Google NGrams. It turns out that there's a big US/UK usage split here. Your version really is relatively uncommon in BrE, but in the last couple of decades it's become the most common form in AmE. Oct 29, 2015 at 13:28

"Black Swan" doesn't mean something rare. It means something that couldn't have been predicted. All swans in the western world are white and people there couldn't have known there were black swans till they heard from Australia. I don't know of animal equivalents.

  • Please don't bring facts into the discussion.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 31, 2015 at 21:42

A rare bird :

  • An exceptional individual, a unique person, as in That wife of yours is a rare bird; you're lucky to have her.

    • This idiom, generally used as a compliment, is a translation of the Latin rara avis, which itself was used from about 1600 on and began to be translated only in the late 1800s.


  • Doesn't a "rare bird" have connotations of "extraordinary", "special", "exceptional", etc.?
    – user140086
    Oct 28, 2015 at 19:43
  • Yes, but also quite rare in that respect, I understand OP is looking for expression similar (not just the same ) to 'black swan.
    – user66974
    Oct 28, 2015 at 19:51
  • I am indeed looking for a similar term. Rare Bird/rara avis isn't a problem in terms of connotation, but the phrase doesn't have quite the humor I am ultimately seeking.
    – Vaughn
    Oct 28, 2015 at 20:55
  • 1
    @Vaughn - "Black swan" has no humorous connotation about it, but I probably misunderstood your question.
    – user66974
    Oct 28, 2015 at 21:01
  • @Josh61 'Odd Duck' also has some of the rarity and humor, but with less of the positive connotation. Overall I'm looking for neutral or positive (i.e. also not 'perfect storm'-ish). Thanks for the ideas!
    – Vaughn
    Oct 28, 2015 at 21:03

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