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The science bit - Taxonomy

All animals and plants are classified and are named in Latin through a series of steps called taxonomy, a bit like a family tree. The taxonomy system was invented by the great eighteenth century naturalist physician, Carl von Linné (1707-1778). Known now as Carl Linnaeus, he was a remarkable individual with immense enthusiasm for the study and recording of nature. He is regarded today as an important figure both scientifically and culturally, his work encompassing all plants and animals then known to the Western world. Through his own publications, and in particular, the Species Plantarum of 1753 and the Systema Naturae of 1758 - he established the Latin binomial species system of naming creatures still used to this day.

The process, starting at the top of the tree, takes a life form through Kingdom, each Kingdom divided into Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species, with prefixes adding more points of definition. There used to be just two kingdoms: plant and animal, now there are five, with bacteria, protozoan, and other minute life forms filling the additional kingdoms.

About 20 phylums divide up within the animal kingdom. For example:

Chordata - Reptiles and amphibians (Class Reptilia and Amphibia)

Vertebrata - Animals with a boney covering to the spinal cord

Mammalia - Humans fall into this class which have been winnowed out of Vertebrata.

The Order then breaks down the Class into more definable groups followed by the Family which further breaks down the Order into very similar creatures. This then divides again into Genus where the similarities are obvious and lastly the Genus ends up with the Species.

Although to the uninitiated this looks confusing, the taxonomy system is actually used to avoid confusion in identifying a particular creature. No two creatures have the same Latin name. Imagine what would happen if there was no unilateral or globally agreed system! A scientist in Australia may describe a native ant as The big brown ant and publish the description in a scientific journal only to find that a South American has already described a similar ant as The big brown ant. Now the ants are only similar in that they are ants they are big and they are brown. The taxonomy system starts with the fact that they are both ants and works down from there identifying the ant then, probably with the discoverers name, Latinised. For example 'Campbell' may be Latinised to 'Campbellii' and Smith to 'Smithsonia'.

Simple when you know!!

 



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