Whether you love biology or are helping your student with his science class, you know how important it is to classify organisms to support a common language for animal identification. The classifications need to be based on a variety of characteristics, not just physical appearances. Using genetic material, studying the evolutionary development, history and relationship to other organisms are some of the ways to provide a more accurate definition of an organism.
It all started with the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who devised a formal system for classifying the diversity of nature. Linnaeus cataloged some of the classes of living things--such as mammals and birds. It has taken 250 years, and this classification is nearly complete. Ultimately, this information will help biologists better understand how all living things are interconnected.
Take for instance, a mammal could be a dolphin as well as a kangaroo. Vertebrae, warm blooded, with the ability to produce milk for its young are just some of the characteristics that connect this underwater creature to a land animal. As for birds, the similarities between a penguin and a parrot may not be visually apparent, but their ability to lay eggs, grow feathers, and have wings--although they may not be able to fly--connect the two. Now it's your turn. See how well you do classifying these organisms from an image. Start the quiz now.
Kangaroos are marsupials that belong the Macropodidae (large foot) family and most of them are endemic to the continent of Australia. These mammals have very powerful hind legs and are able to leap as far as 30 feet in a single bound.
Penguins are aquatic birds, most of which live in the southern hemisphere with the exception of the Galapagos penguin, which can be found near the equator. Although they are birds, they are unable to fly as their wings are very flipper-like, an adaptation that makes them excellent swimmers.
The word hippo comes from a Greek word which translates to “river horse,” and rightfully so, as these semi-aquatic mammals spend time on both land and in water. Most hippos are herbivorous, and can get and can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds, making them the third-largest land mammal on earth.
Dolphins are aquatic mammals that belong to the Odontoceti (toothed whale) family, which also includes sperm whales, narwhals and orcas. Dolphins are known for their intelligence, high pitched noises and playful nature.
Crocodiles have been rumored to be around since the time of the dinosaurs, making them one of the oldest species on the planet. These aquatic reptiles live in the lakes and rivers of the world and are mostly found in the tropical regions of Australia, Africa, Asia and the Americas.
The Venus flytrap is a carnivorous plant that is able to catch its prey (mostly insects and spiders) by snapping shut when the organism comes into contact with the tiny hairs on its inner surface.
Orcas, or Killer Whales, are the largest members of the toothed whale family and are found in all types of water, from warmer tropical seas to regions of the cold Arctic. These marine mammals have a very diverse diet which ranges from fish to other marine mammals, such as seals and dolphins.
Chameleons belong to the lizard family but what makes them different from their reptilian cousins is their ability to change their color, their rapidly extrudable tongues, their independently mobile eyes, and their unusual gait.
The blue and yellow macaw is a parrot indigenous to the forests and woodlands of South America and some parts of Central America. The bird is known for its striking color and its ability to learn how to speak.
Jellyfish are soft-bodied invertebrates which are found at varying depths of every major ocean in the world. Although there are many species, they all have an umbrella-shaped bell and tentacles which are used to not only capture prey but to also defend themselves from predators.
Found in the Arctic waters of Greenland, Russia and parts of Canada is the Narwhal, another member of the toothed whale family. The current Narwhal population is just over 75,000 and under the criterion of the International Union of Conservation of nature, is qualified as Near Threatened.
The Humboldt squid is known as the jumbo squid in many parts of the world and is found in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, in the waters of the Humboldt current. These invertebrates are the largest of the squid family, reaching lengths as long as 5 feet.
Giant sequoias are the world’s largest single trees and are capable of growing to a height exceeding 275 feet and a diameter of 20 feet. These trees are restricted to parts of California and are listed as endangered, probably due to climate change.
After the death of Steve Irwin, these cartilaginous fish have been labelled as being dangerous, but they are quite peaceful creatures, as long as they don’t feel threatened. They are found in the coastal tropics and subtropical waters of the world and a few species are found in rivers.
The Mambas are a group of venomous snakes ranging from green to black which can all be found in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. While many believe that these reptiles prey on humans, it is quite the opposite, as they tend to avoid us.
The newt is a type of salamander which spends its time alternating between terrestrial and aquatic habitats. With over 100 species of newt, they can be found living in the humid regions of North America, North Africa, Europe and Asia, returning to the water every year to breed.
Formally known as the Madagascar hissing cockroach, these wingless invertebrates are one of the largest of the cockroach species, some growing as large as 2 to 3 inches. In some parts of the world, these animals are kept as pets and can live for as long as five years while in captivity.
This group of long-legged territorial birds inhabit the wetlands, forests and plains of the world, but are mostly found in the Southern Hemisphere. They tend to feed on aquatic animals (mostly crustaceans) that they find while probing mud with their long beaks.
This subtropical plant is often mistaken for a tree and is found in regions of the Canary Islands, Madeira, Cape Verde and parts of Morocco. The plant belongs to the same family as asparagus and is known for the lily-like scent that it produces when it begins to flower.
The ball python is a non-venomous reptile found in different parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The python was given its name because it has a tendency to curl into a ball when it is stressed or frightened.
Manatees (sometimes called sea cows) are herbivorous aquatic mammals that live in different parts of the Caribbean, West Africa, and the Amazon. Some sub-species of this animal can grow as long as 15 feet and exceed 4,000 lbs.
Once endemic to the Mauritius island, the Dodo, a flightless bird, has been extinct since 1662. Because of its extinction, it was difficult to determine the exact coloration and plumage of the bird, but thanks to numerous illustrations and written accounts of encounters with the animal, we have an idea as to what it might have looked like.
The Southern Black Widow spider is an extremely venomous spider and the females (with their distinctive black and red coloring) are known for eating their mates after reproduction. Native only to regions of North America, the venom of this snake is rarely lethal to healthy people.
The name mosquito comes from the Spanish name for “little fly” and is found all over the world. Most females from the different species are known for consuming blood from various hosts with their proboscis.
Because of their bright red color, these amphibians are often preyed upon, but luckily these creatures have a few defense mechanisms that allow them to escape. One of them is the secretion of a thick gummy substance that often gets caught in the eyes and mouths of predators.
Ram cichlid are freshwater fish that are endemic to the Orinoco River in Venezuela and Colombia (South America). The wild cichlids are much more colorful than the tank-bred, and that has been linked to poor breeding conditions.
Hedgehogs are small spiny nocturnal mammals found in parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Often mistaken for porcupines, not only are these creatures unrelated, the hedgehog quills are fixed to their bodies and they are able to curl up into little balls.
The Arowana is a facultative air-breathing fish found in bodies of fresh water all around the world. These fish are carnivorous in nature and some are known to jump as far as six feet from the surface of the water to pick off prey from tree branches hanging over the water.
The Bellis perennis is the scientific name for the common daisy which is a perennial plant with rosettes of small rounded to oval leaves. This particular species makes its home on lawns and can be extremely difficult to get rid of.
The Common Waxbill, formerly known as St. Helena’s waxbill, is originally from sub-Saharan Africa but has been introduced to many different parts of the world. Because of its beautiful color and low maintenance, people keep these birds as pets.
These mammals are named after one of the seven deadly sins due to their lazy-like behavior. The sloth's slowness in movement is actually due to an adaptation in an effort to conserve energy. When these creatures are preyed upon, they are able to move extremely fast, and they even have the ability to swim.
There are over 900 species of these hairy arachnids, none of which are dangerous to humans, despite what we may think. These invertebrates have a body length of 1 to 4 inches and some of them have a width span of 3 to 12 inches.
These amphibians are often mistaken for newts, but there are subtle differences between them, one of which is that newts are actually a subgroup of salamander, and they tend to be more aquatic than the salamanders.
Also called the American Flamingo, these tall birds are found in parts of the Caribbean, South America, and the Galapagos islands. While many flamingos are known for their beautiful colors, the Caribbean Flamingo is perhaps one of the brightest in color with its reddish-pink plumage.
Although it is called the Arizona bark scorpion, this invertebrate is found in the southwestern regions of the United States and the northwestern regions of Mexico. These scorpions are nocturnal and tend to feed on crickets, beetles, and other tiny insects.
The Fairy Spider Orchid comes from a species of orchids that are endemic to Australia and its island state, Tasmania. The plant has a singular leaf with four to five pink (and sometimes white) flower petals and usually blooms between August and December.
These burrowing rodents are the only mammalian species considered to be thermoconformers, which is the ability to adapt their body temperature to their surroundings. These animals also lack pain sensitivity in their hairless wrinkled skin and have very poor vision.
Box turtles have a very distinctive dome-shaped shell which is often confused as a tortoise. The average lifespan of these turtles is 50 years and many of them are kept as house pets despite recommendations against it.
Often mistaken for ants, these tiny creatures feed on dead plant material, and sometimes animal dung. Just like ants and bees, these invertebrates work in a caste system, dividing the labor amongst each group, with the fertile males and females called kings and queens.
This critically endangered amphibian is endemic only to Panama, and is completely extinct in the wild. While the Panamanian Golden Frog is a national symbol to Panamanians, it has a variety of toxins, and is able to cause death if a person or animal is exposed to increased quantities of those toxins.
Begonias are flowering plants often used as house plants because of their beautiful colors. With almost 2,000 species found all over the world, these plants come in a variety of colors, most of which blossom year-round.
While green iguanas weigh just over 11 lbs., these reptiles can grow up to 6.5 feet long, making them one of the largest of the lizard species. These iguanas live in parts of Central and South America and the Caribbean but were introduced to parts of the United States.
The White-naped cranes are grey, with a white striped neck, pink legs and a red face patch. This particular bird is found in regions of Mongolia, China and migrates to other parts of Asia during different seasons.
Although these toads are named after the country, Suriname, they are found throughout the subtropical, tropical and freshwater regions of South America and the Caribbean. In Portuguese, these amphibians are known as “sapo pipa” which translates to "kite."
Mole crickets belong to the same insect family as grasshoppers and locusts. Unlike other crickets, these have shovel-like forelimbs specialized for burrowing into the ground. In some parts of the world, these crickets are said to bring good fortune, while in others, they are agricultural pests.
Fennec foxes are small nocturnal mammals who live in parts of North Africa. Their extremely large ears, not only serve the purpose of hearing, they also help these animals to dissipate heat, especially since they live in very hot regions of the Sahara.
The Spotted turtle is an endangered semi-aquatic reptile found in the freshwater areas of Ontario, Canada and parts of the Eastern USA. They were named spotted turtle because their shell is blueish-black to black with tiny yellow round spots that give it its starry night appearance.
The Tufted Puffin is a medium-sized bird found in regions of the North Pacific Ocean. This particular puffin is one of three of its species and has an iconic red bill and yellow tufts against its black and white feathers.
There are over 1,500 species of Cactus and while they come in all different shapes and sizes, mostly all of them have the iconic spines. Most cacti are able to live in extremely dry environments because they have a water conserving mechanism.
The Osage viper is a venomous snake found in the central regions of North America, specifically parts of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. There are five subspecies of this particular copperhead and they range from 2 to 3 feet in length.