Animals in Egyptian Hieroglyphics

Written by dawn colclasure
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Animals in Egyptian Hieroglyphics
Animals in hieroglyphics sometimes represented an Egyptian deity. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Egyptian hieroglyphics may have gone out of fashion, but historians, Egyptologists and archaeologists still study them for their historical and linguistic value. While animal symbols were used to indicate phonetic pronunciation, or to simply represent the animal, it was common for animals to represent Egyptian deities. Animals such as the scarab beetle, cobra and cow represented the deities Khepri, Wadjet and Hathor, respectively. Animals are also used in Egyptian hieroglyphics to represent pharaohs or royalty. Animal hieroglyphics can also be found in a cartouche, which is an oval shaped combination of hieroglyphs contained within what appears to be rope or a strong band, and this is usually an indication of a royal name, such as that of a king.


Flamingos, geese, hawks, owls and ducks are just some of the birds used in Egyptian hieroglyphics. While some of these creatures may have represented a deity, others may have been used for a word. For example, a goose was often used for the word "son." In order to determine which word it refers to, look for what is known as a "determinative," which is a symbol or image next to the animal to indicate the symbol is not to be translated as the animal. For example, if the image of a man appears next to a goose, then it represents the word "son." This combination is called a phonogram.


Cats were considered to be sacred animals in ancient Egypt. In fact, one of the Egyptian gods was a cat: the god Bast. Additionally, in Egyptian folklore, the god Ra transformed into a cat while battling the water serpent Apep. For this reason, cats in hieroglyphics were also seen as a representation of the god Ra.

Scarab Beetles

The scarab beetle represented the god Khepri, yet it also had another meaning: resurrection. The scarab beetle had the tendency to come out of nowhere, as if it created itself. The Egyptians saw this to mean the scarab beetle was capable of self-creation and regeneration, so it was considered to be sacred.

Dogs and Jackals

Dogs and jackals were also considered to be sacred animals. The jackal especially was given some importance in Egyptian hieroglyphics because it resembled the jackal-headed god Anubis, a god of the underworld. Anubis was commonly depicted as a jackal in hieroglyphics, and dogs were included when they held special importance as someone's companion.

Farm Animals

Farm animals were sacred to the ancient Egyptians. They relied on farm animals to do the same kind of work they do today, so they made sure their animals were in good health and cared for. For this reason, these animals were included in the hieroglyphics used for communication concerning farming and farm business. Donkeys, goats, cows, bulls, horses and pigs are just some of these farm animals.

Animals Representing Deities

Some animals used in Egyptian hieroglyphics represent the gods and goddesses the ancient Egyptians once worshipped. These animals included the cat for the god Ra, the frog representing "the frog goddess" Heqet, and the scorpion for "the scorpion goddess" Serqet.

Animals Representing Pharaohs

Snakes were often used in hieroglyphics. Ordinarily, a snake was used as the phonetic "F." A cobra represented the fertility goddess Wadjet. However, a picture of a cobra erect, as if on top of a hat, represented a pharaoh.

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