Taxonomy – The Science of Classifying Organisms

Why do we need a system to classify and name organisms?

Here are some common names:

  • sea monkey
  • spider monkey
  • sea horse
  • sea lion
  • lion fish
  • ant lion
sea lion

Common names can be misleading. A sea monkey is a type of shrimp. A spider monkey is not a spider, and a sea horse is fish. Sea cucumbers are strange little invertebrates that are related to starfish.

Common names are confusing!

Organizing the Tree of Life

Taxonomy is the scientific study of naming, describing, and classifying organisms based on shared characteristics.  involves the identification, description, and arrangement of species into groups.

You are probably familiar with some of these taxonomic groups, like mammals or crustaceans. These groups are then divided into smaller subgroups. Think of how products are arranged in a supermarket. There is an area for produce, and within that area, you’ll find the oranges grouped together, and the apples in another section. Taxonomy starts with broad categories and then groups them into smaller subgroups

LionTigerRed Fox
Class MammaliaMammaliaMammalia

A helpful mnemonic for remembering the organization is: “Dear King Philip Came Over For Great Soup.”

There are currently 6 kingdoms – organisms are placed into the kingdoms based on the number and type of cells they have,  and their nutritional needs.

Naming Organisms:

Binomial nomenclature is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, both of which use Latin forms. The system provides a standard way of naming and referring to species, which helps scientists to communicate.

-written in italics (or underlined)
-1st word is Capitalized –Genus
-2nd word is lowercase —species

Examples: Felis concolor, Ursus arctos, Homo sapiens, Panthera leo , Panthera tigris.   These can also be abbreviated as  (P. tigris or P. leo)

Additional Links on Taxonomy

Build a CladogramTree of Life Web Project