Is there a specific, single-word adjective for animals that live among human beings but are not pets, livestock, or work animals? Examples would be insect pests living in a house, like cockroaches or ants; birds that live in the trees in a supermarket parking lot and feed off of human refuse; or rodents or deer that live near human settlements and feed off of plants cultivated by humans.

They are not quite wild, in the sense of living apart from humans in a "natural" state. Nor are they domesticated, in the sense of being tamed and put to specific purposes for the benefit of humans.

These animals could be described as opportunistic, and in some cases could be called commensal, but is there a more specific word than those?

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    "Vermin" is sometimes used, though the dictionary definition doesn't quite fit your description.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 1:22
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    @Hot Licks as you know 'vermin' is usually used in a negative sense and describes animals considered 'pests' by humans. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 1:28
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    Physicists works
    – Strawberry
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 9:01
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    When asking for a specific word it's helpful to know the intended audience for the word. A specific technical term may be the most accurate, but may not be well-known. A more widely known layman's term could be a better answer in some cases.
    – barbecue
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 22:17
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    In Dutch, there is the word "cultuurvolger", which means "follower of culture" (and hence "follower of human society"), does something similar exist in English?
    – Dominique
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 7:07

12 Answers 12



:ecologically associated with humans
synanthropic flies

"Synanthropic." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2017.

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    +1, but note that "synanthropic" includes plants and animals, and OP asked specifically for animals.
    – Dubu
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 8:09
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    @Dubu OP asked for an adjective to distinguish synanthropic animals from other kinds. The fact that the word can also distinguish plants seems beside the point.
    – David K
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 11:57
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    @DavidK It was just a caveat. When used as "synanthropic animals," it would be unambiguous, but a phrase like "synanthropic species" would include plants.
    – Dubu
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 14:41

Urban or urbanized might work, as in "urban wildlife".

This would refer to where the animals live rather than what their relation is with humans, and would specifically refer to densely-populated settlements.

e.g., it would clearly cover peregrine falcons in New York (which eat the pigeons that in turn eat our refuse), but might sound strange if you used it to refer to a wolf in rural areas preying on livestock.

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    This is definitely how I would describe the foxes that go through our bins.
    – Stewart
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 16:23
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    Not all people live in urban environments. Farms have lots of animals on them that are not domesticated but live on the farm produce. Everything from grasshoppers to pumas.
    – Al Maki
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 22:24
  • @AlMaki yep, hence the caveat I gave - if you want to try improving the wording of that, feel free to propose an edit. "urban" might work better conversationally, but for precise meaning, "synanthropic" from another answer is certainly more accurate.
    – Soron
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 5:24
  • The phrase I've always heard.
    – user39425
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 20:39

Feral really means 'wild' but this word is often used to describe non-domestic animals living among humans.

Definition of feral

1 : of, relating to, or suggestive of a wild beast

2 a : not domesticated or cultivated: wild (feral animals)

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feral

Feral animals are wild animals that are not owned or controlled by anyone, especially ones that belong to species which are normally owned and kept by people.

Source: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/feral

Real example: Yesterday I saw (on TV) a feral deer and baby which live in and around a North American township. This mother deer attacked and savagely kicked a dog which came too close to the infant deer. Luckily the dog survived the attack.

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    +1 In Australian English it is almost always "ones that belong to species which are normally owned and kept by people". You would never say a "feral kangaroo" or a "feral dingo", because you expect to find those things in the wild. Feral suggests that it is, or is the offspring of, an animal that has escaped, or been released into the wild. Also Australian slang for an extremely unkempt or ill behaved person.
    – jsj
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 2:34
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    Very true, @jsj -- the typical usage I heard on TV is 'feral cattle', 'feral dogs', 'feral cat' etc. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 3:17
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    @jsj That would be the same in British usage, too. The only way I could imagine a feral deer would be in the context of a non-native species that had been kept on a country estate and escaped. But, even then, something like sika deer in the UK (and US, too) exist in sufficient numbers that the significant escaped populations would be described as an introduced wild species, rather than as feral domesticated animals. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 16:38
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    "Feral" has the connotation that the animal was once domesticated but now is wild, or almost wild.
    – user75798
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 18:37
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    @Lenne In Queensland it is illegal to own a rabbit unless you are a magician, says this article: all-that-is-interesting.com/bunny-rabbits-australia Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 4:35

I would use the word "Cohabitant".

"3. to dwell with another or share the same place, as different species of animals."

From http://www.dictionary.com/browse/cohabitant

I feel this fits all the criteria you're looking for :)

  • Is there a way to specify that humans are the other species (while keeping it as a single word)?
    – arboviral
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 16:54
  • I wouldn't think so, it comes from the verb 'cohabit', so you would just apply the human adjective beforehand.
    – Korthalion
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 8:19
  • So 'human-cohabitant'? Unless you can get the whole thing across in one word it sounds like it wouldn't meet the criterion in the title...
    – arboviral
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 13:04
  • I feel that you're being unnecessarily picky here, but I'm bored at work so... Cohabitant meets the criteria specified in both the title and the question, as given any reasonable context the adjective should be superfluous. I could also be extra pedantic and point out that humans are animals too, making the 'human' distinction irrelevant.
    – Korthalion
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 14:39
  • Possibly, but someone pointed out that 'synanthropic' wasn't specific to animals, which I'd say was even pickier. I hope you notice that at about the time I commented above I was editing my own suggestion ('peridomestic') to point out that it also isn't animal-specific, so don't take it personally. I'd still say this covers association with another species but not humans specifically. We currently have some answers that cover the 'among humans' part of the question and some that cover the 'animals', and some that cover both but carry additional semantic baggage ('feral'); nothing's perfect...
    – arboviral
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 15:07

The word you're looking for is commensal:

Commensalism, in ecology, is a class of relationships between two organisms where one organism benefits from the other without affecting it.


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    Welcome to ELU. Well done for providing a link to back up your suggestion, but we also expect relevant info from the link to be quoted in the answer. This is a) to save readers having to open the link and find the relevant part and b) in case the link dies and the info is no longer available. I've edited something from the link into your answer, please feel free to edit further if it doesn't quite give the impression you want.
    – AndyT
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 8:59
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    Cockroaches, rats, and birds seriously do affect humans, mostly in a negative way.
    – pipe
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 8:59
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    The question specifically states that "commensal" has been considered and rejected. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 14:14

"Synanthropic", which has already been suggested, is probably the closest to your requirements. If you are specifically talking about animals that live close to or within human buildings, rather than humans, however, the word is probably "peridomestic", which is an adjective meaning "living in and around human habitations".

(In the interests of fairness, I should point out that (like synanthropic) this could apply equally to plants.)

  • I'm not sure I buy the emphasis you put on buildings -- I suspect that it only refers to the structures themselves in the same sense that "domestic" does... the etymological roots go back to "house" but even "habitations" as used in the def you provided may refer to more than the buildings themselves.
    – A C
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 15:20
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    @AC I'm talking from personal experience - it's the term we use in papers and lectures when describing the habitats of disease-transmitting organisms like mosquitoes and ticks. (In the case of the mosquitoes it's typically artificial containers intentionally or unintentionally left in and around buildings, whereas for ticks it's normally animal housing.)
    – arboviral
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 15:23

As suggested, the term habituated is now the one I would go with.

The definition of the word on Wiktionary is :

  • To make accustomed; to accustom; to familiarize.
  • To settle as an inhabitant.

An animal familiarises itself with an environment, becomes accustomed to it, and then settles in that habitat as an inhabitant.

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    This is not what the word "symbiotic" means. It refers to a relationship between species in which both benefit greatly from the other, usually to the point where they can't survive without each other. This is very different from "when animals live in contact with other animals but without forming close relationships".
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 7:14
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    @Nathaniel The quotation, labelled 'Symbiotic', is from Science Direct so I think the term is being used in a wider sense than you are aware of.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 8:43
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    @Nathaniel the dogs in this example will keep down pests that would eat stored food, dispose of food scraps and deter (or warn of) predators (wolves/lions/bears etc.) Thus there's the potential for a significant benefit to humans, even potentially affecting survival rates though the majority of humans would be equally likely to make it wihtout the dogs. So the answer is correct, but unfortunately doesn;t fit the question in all aspects
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 9:22
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    @NigelJ the article you linked is not "from Science Direct", it is from an article in the Journal of Business Research, which is syndicated by Science Direct, along with many other academic journals. The article does not contain the text I quoted, nor does it use the word 'symbiotic' in the sense you describe.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 9:50
  • @ChrisH that's as may be, but it doesn't imply that the word 'symbiotic' means what this answer says it means.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 9:51

Weeds or weed species
I have heard "weeds" or "weed species" to describe this. Many people think all weeds are plants, but here it includes all species that live among people and benefit from the alteration of the environment that people do. It includes crows and gulls that feed off garbage, the insects that live in houses, traditional plant weeds that benefit from our treatment of the soil, etc. It is not restricted to animals as you want.


In scientific/technical literature, I have seen the term domestic used. For example, Powell and Tabachnick describe Aedes aegypti (common name Yellow Fever mosquito) being as domestic. Note that they also use commensalism. Here is one paragraph for some context:

As humans have grown in numbers and occupancy of the Earth, their habitats have encroached on the native habitats of many species. One outcome is extinction of the invaded species, another is evolution of “domestication” or commensalism, the breeding in human-occupied territory. When this occurs for insects that require a vertebrate source of blood, the results can be disastrous. These blood-requiring insects most often evolve a preference for the most available and stable blood source: humans. Many major insect vectors of human diseases have undergone this domestication process and now breed in close proximity with humans and take human blood meals.

Anecdotally, though, this use of domestic seems to be most common in the entomology literature. I do not think I have ever seen it used in ecological literature.

For additionally ecological context, Aedes aegypti has evolved to mostly feed off of humans (~95% of their diet if I recall correctly from my MS work). The species generally cannot survive without humans to feed on. Besides vectoring Yellow Fever, the species transmits several other diseases including dengue.


Not quite what you're looking for, but there's also "tame", for animals that haven't been domesticated on a species level, but have been adapted and trained to work alongside humans on an individual level.

For instance, circuses might carry out performances using tame lions and tigers.


When talking about the deer and other wildlife on our property I use the terms "accustomed" or "used to", as in:

That mama deer and her twins have gotten used to our comings and goings, and as long as we don't approach 'em too closely they're not going to budge, 'specially when they're nose-down in the clover.


The geese are accustomed to us going in and out on the gravel driveway, and know they only have to move off it to be safe.


I saw that coyote sittin' just over the rise, watchin' the barn again. I s'pose she's pretty much used to us by now, but I wouldn't want to be her if she decides to tangle up with the goats. No, sirree!



"a person who becomes involved in a place or situation where they are not wanted or are considered not to belong."

I think this captures the sense for which you are looking. Some creatures lope, and the use of "inter" heightens the "betweeness". The creatures are impinging on human territory, trespassing.

The etymology captures this sense, too: "Late 16th century (denoting an unauthorized trader trespassing on the rights of a trade monopoly): from inter- ‘amid’ + -loper as in archaic landloper ‘vagabond’ (from Middle Dutch landlooper )."

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