13+ Poker Animals That You Need to Know About

In the world of poker, it’s important to gather as much information about your opponents as possible. Interestingly enough many players can be compared to so-called ‘poker animals’. Learning their style of play, tendencies, and any physical traits or tells that can give you clues about their hand is a huge part of the game.  Playing online poker makes it much harder to read your opponents, but most software allows for note-taking so you can quickly identify the habits and style of play of those you’ve played against before.

Since most fundamentally sound players fold the majority of the time, they have plenty of time to take notes on other players, and they can tend to be too lengthy and descriptive.  Luckily for us, simple descriptions using real world animals are a surprisingly accurate way to describe poker players, games, and even spectators.  In this article, we’ll go over all of the different poker animals you’re likely to encounter, their style of play, and what you should do while playing against them.

Prey, Observers and Predators

In the jungle of the poker world, there are three different core personality types you will generally encounter.  They are the Prey, the Observers, and the Predators.

Prey personalities are those that other players tend to eat up, or profit from.  Whether it happens quickly or takes all night, the Prey will lose their bankroll to more skilled or aggressive players because of their style of play.

The Observers are those who choose to sit back and watch, rather than take any risk at all.  Observers are content to watch life pass them by without taking part.  People who would rather watch others play Poker than play themselves are Observers.

Predators are those players who prey on others and take away their bankrolls.  There are several different types of Predators when it comes to Poker, and each of them are equally dangerous.  If you’re new to the game, the Predators are the players you need to watch out for.

Phil Hellmuth’s Poker Animals

In his book Play Poker Like The Pros, multi-time poker champion Phil Hellmuth described his personal strategy to characterize other poker players as animals.  He describes five different animals, each with their own playing tendencies and personalities.  Here are the five poker animals and a short description of each one.

The Mouse (Prey)

Poker Mouse

A mouse is a perfect way to describe this poker player.  They are timid and cautious, and it’s only a matter of time before they give up their entire bankroll.  Mice are extremely conservative, so they’ll fold early if they don’t have the cards they want.  Mice rarely raise or reraise, and prefer to call.  Their personality of caution prevents them from bluffing, so when they bet big, you know it’s time for you to get out because they’ve got the cards to back it up.  This personality has also been described as a rock in poker circles.  If a Mouse sticks around to see a pot, they’re most likely going to win it.

The Lion (Predator)

Poker Lion

Our first Poker Predator is the Lion.  If you are serious about your Poker game, this is the personality you want to be or become.  Lions are tight players who take occasional calculated risks to win large pots, but generally they begin each hand with strict card requirements, so they’re not afraid to fold.  They are skilled players who live to prey on Mice, Jackals, and Elephants. Lions are prone to be more aggressive when they are up in the chip count, and more conservative when they’re down.  There’s a reason this personality is called the Lion, these players are the kings of the poker jungle.

The Jackal (Prey)

Poker Jackal

This poker personality is the wild man out of them all.  Jackals are incredibly entertaining, but when you play against them, you need to exercise caution to protect your chips.  Jackals are known to bet or raise without quality cards, based more on a whim than what they have in their hand.  Their wild style of play can be distracting to others at the table, which they can use to their advantage.  These players experience large gains and losses on a regular basis, which matches their up and down personality perfectly.  Never be afraid to call a Jackal, because they bet big on garbage hands all the time.

The Elephant (Prey)

Poker Elephant

These players love to call and are known for staying in a hand even when they shouldn’t.  The Elephant usually remains in each hand despite their starting cards until at least the river, and many times all the way to the showdown without any quality cards.  That makes playing against the Elephant a very lucrative proposition.  They will continue to add funds to the pot in the face of poor odds, which usually ends up in your chip stack if you’re a Predator.  Since the Elephant sticks around to see all of his cards, he’ll sometimes beat you on the river, but those are the breaks.  Bluffing an Elephant isn’t necessary since he’s already going to stick around to see all of his cards.  Most of the time, he’ll end up donating his bankroll to the other players.

The Eagle (Predator)

Poker Eagle

This is the ultimate personality when it comes to playing Poker.  Few people ever get the chance to play against an Eagle, much less become one.  According to Hellmuth, the Eagle is any Poker player that is ranked in the top 100 in the world.  These are the players who have mastered their craft, and consider all of the other animals, including Lions, as Prey.  If you find yourself at a table with an Eagle, you can just give them your chips, or you can stick around as they systematically take them from you.  They are the best of the poker animals, and you’ll probably only see them at the final tables of major poker events like the World Series of Poker.

Other Poker Animals

In addition to Hellmuth’s poker animal system to describe players, there are some other animals commonly used to describe people in the Poker world.  Here are a few of the most common ones:

The Donkey (Prey)

Poker Donkey

Another word for Donkey is Jackass, and that’s what this term is used to describe.  Donkeys play aggressive and loose, so their money usually doesn’t last.  They are mostly new players who don’t know how to play or old players who never learned.  Donkeys act “as if” they know what they’re doing, but prove that they don’t, with off-the-wall comments and play.  Players who are under the influence are also said to be Donkeys, regardless of their animal status when sober.  If you get a Donkey at your table, stick around because they’re giving away money.

The Goldfish (Prey)

Poker Fish

These players are the ultimate prey when it comes to playing Poker.  A Goldfish is a combination of a Mouse and an Elephant.  This means that they will only raise when they have good cards, and they will stay in hands that they should fold on statistically.  Without the filter of using conservative starting cards, Goldfish are like a slot machine, because the money just flows out of their pocket and into yours.  What’s even better, finding Goldfish is easy enough, just play some live poker at your nearest casino.

The Railbird (Observer)

Poker Bird

Railbirds are friends, family, or people who have a stake in a player’s success.  These people are heavily invested in a particular player, for personal or financial reasons.  In small doses, Railbirds are generally harmless, but groups of them can be distracting at large events like the WSOP.  If a vast and loud group of Railbirds is cheering for you, it can be a definite advantage.

The Whale (Predator)

Poker Whale

A Whale is a poker predator whose main advantage is the sheer size of their bankroll.  By betting heavy, they attempt to bully other players into folding so they can win the pot.  Whales usually have a huge amount to spend and are not intimidated by Sharks or the thought of losing.  A Whale can take all of your chips with one big pot, so be careful when playing against them.

The Shark (Predator)

Poker Shark

Shark is a loose term that’s used to describe any skilled Poker player.  These players take advantage of all the different types of Prey to relieve them of their cash.  Armed with knowledge, analysis, statistics, and hours of playing time, the Shark is a dangerous foe.  They can quickly adjust to the play of others at the table to maximize their effectiveness.  Sharks are experts at identifying which types of poker animals they’re playing against, and quickly tearing them up.

Animal Related Poker Terms

Here are a few other poker animal related terms that are often used in a poker setting:


Poker Ducks

This term is used in Texas Hold’em to describe a pocket pair of two’s.  The only time Ducks are a good thing is when playing head to head.  Otherwise, fold.


Poker Crabs

Similar to Ducks, Crabs refers to a pocket pair of threes in Texas Hold’em.  Generally speaking, getting Crabs is an unpleasant experience.


Poker Horse

Horse is a form of Poker that combines five different games.  A round of H.O.R.S.E. includes Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Razz, Seven Card Stud, and Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo.  Good players in this form of Poker are well-rounded and skilled.

Rabbit Hunters

Poker Rabbit Hunters

This term refers to players who ask the dealer to show them the cards that would have been dealt had the hand continued.  Rabbit Hunters are trying to see what they would have had for a hand if they hadn’t folded.  This is a practice that is generally frowned upon, so don’t try it at a casino or live event.


Poker Pigs

Pigs originated in home poker games using wild cards.  This is a term used to describe a player who tries to declare both high and low during a game.  This strategy is used to try to avoid splitting the pot, which makes the player look greedy like a pig.

Poker Animals Conclusion

In the world of poker, there are many different personalities and playing styles.  The three main personalities you will find are Prey, Observers, and Predators.  Phil Hellmuth and others have coined poker animals to describe players.  As a poker player, you need to be aware of each of the Poker Animals, and their playing style and tendencies.  If you’re Prey, you should change and become a Predator.  First, become a Lion, and then you can become an Eagle.  Good Luck!

Suggested Reading Materials

For other interesting articles about poker strategy, check these links out:

Avoid Online Poker Sharks

Reading Poker Tells and Body Language

Betting: When Why and How

I'm a tech geek who enjoys extreme sports, computing and, of course, an avid poker enthusiast.

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