The Meanings Behind Animal Symbol Tattoos 

Ashley Reign
Updated March 19, 2020 52.1k views 21 items

If you want to highlight specific aspects of your personality, animal tattoos make a great choice. Animal tattoo designs are the perfect way to symbolize your own favorite traits by celebrating the animals that share them with you. But first you have to know what they mean. If you're not sure which animals best represent you, check out this collection of animal symbol tattoos, complete with descriptions and stories behind meaning of each one.

Looking for animal symbol tattoo ideas of your own? This list will get your creative gears turning as you learn about animal tattoos in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and styles. Scroll through the pictures to discover popular meanings held by various cultures around the world and choose spirit animal tattoo for yourself.

These tattoos of animal symbols will show you why inking on your favorite creature can be a great way to express yourself to the world.

Koi Fish
Koi Fish is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Meanings Behind Animal Symbol Tattoos
Photo:  sabotrax/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The popularity of the Koi fish tattoo goes back to an old Chinese and Japanese myth about a huge school of a thousand Koi fish swimming upstream in China's Yellow River. When the little guys reached a huge waterfall, most of the fish turned back. A few of the Koi stuck it out, however, and after 100 years, one of them finally succeeded in leaping to the top of the falls.

It impressed the gods so much they turned him into a dragon. The Koi therefore symbolizes strength, bravery, and perseverance. 

Butterflies is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Meanings Behind Animal Symbol Tattoos
Photo:  Shannon Archuleta/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0
Ever the popular choice among ladies, the butterfly is the ultimate symbol of transformation. Though it may begin it's life as an unimpressive insect, it's beauty comes from it's ability to keep the faith as it cocoons, goes through a huge transformation during its darkest moments, and emerges an entirely different, gorgeous creature.
Domestic Cats
Domestic Cats is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Meanings Behind Animal Symbol Tattoos
Photo:  Sarah-Rose/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

The beauty of the cat tattoo is that, depending on its design, it can have a variety of different meanings. Some kitty tats portray the effortless joy and playfulness of kittens, while others bring out the mysterious, magical, intuitive side of felines.

Throughout history cats have been celebrated in different cultures as everything from gods to the guardians of the underworld.

Wolves or Wild Dogs
Wolves or Wild Dogs is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Meanings Behind Animal Symbol Tattoos
Photo:  Tony Alter/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
If you're a type who prefers living life on the wild side, then the wolf tattoo may be for you. Wolves are the ultimate symbol of freedom, living off of instinct, and in the case of the "lone wolf," self-reliance. They are also celebrated as warrior symbols in some cultures due to their keen senses, power, and grace.