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Flat Earth Academy- Science

Biology: Organism Groups:

Kingdoms, Phyla, Classes, Orders, Families, Genera, Species

Naming of organisms

This is a work in progress... please bear with me, come back and watch it grow? Send constructive suggestions?


This page is part of a section of the Flat Earth Academy in which the way academics split up all living things is considered. This "splitting up" is something humans just like to do, and it also organizes our study of living things.

On this page we cover two things...

There is a page telling you what you Need To Know about the groups and naming of living things.

The biologist's way of naming each kind of living thing

Science is an international endeavor. Long ago scientists agreed a system for naming living things that would give, say, a blue whale one name... regardless of where you happen to come from, and regardless of what language you speak at home. For the blue whale, that name happens to be Balaenoptera musculus.

Every scientific name is in two parts like that. Here are a few more scientific names....

The first two are large black birds common in North America and Europe, respectively. To you and me they are "crows". Scientists see differences between them, and thus have given them different names.... but notice that the first half of the name is the same. It doesn't mean that they are "related" the way Henry Brown is related to his daughter Mary Brown, but the shared "Corvus" does tell us that they are similar animals.

Another crow-like bird found all across the northern latitudes is what, in English, we call the raven. In this case the "North American" raven and the "European" raven are the same kind of bird, and to scientists they are all Corvus corax. (There are other ravens, too.) In Spain, the raven would be called cuervo, in Germany Rabe, Sweden korp.... by everyday folk. But scientists are saved having to learn one another's languages, and saved cross border confusion.

Even in a single language, there can be problems.

If someone from North America visits Britain, he or she may be confused to see a bird a bit like a "chickadee" called a "robin".

Meanwhile, people from Britain visiting North America will get confuses when a bird like a blackbird with a red breast is called a "robin".

"Scientific" names, like Corvus corax, avoid these confusions. (The North American "robin" is Turdus migratorius ("Turdus" is Latin for "thrush" (the group of birds that robin is in), by the way), and the British "robin" is Erithacus rubecula.)

The big groups, the next smaller groups, etc, of living things

I knew of a small boy who delighted in relating that his address was....

Percival Wemys Madison,
The Vicarage,
Harcourt St. Anthony,
Solar System

Biologists have a similar hierarchical scheme for organizing living things. Crudely done, in a mixture of English and "Biologist-speak", the raven we were talking about earlier might be described as follows...

Species: corax
Genus: Corvus
(Those two together say "raven")
Family: Crows
Order: Birds
Class: Vertebrates
Phylum: Chordata
Kingdom: Animal

By the way... not the first time you read this page, but at some point, please read my disclaimer about the groups into which I have split all living things.

These groupings are useful because you can say things like....

"Most birds in the crow family are black"

"Things in the 'Birds' order have feathers

"Vertebrates have a backbone"

You don't get stuck with silly things, for want, say of the "vertebrates" class, silly things like: "Birds and Fish and Reptiles and Mammals and Amphibians have backbones."

If you first study the general facts about, say, vertebrates, then when you go on to study the separate vertebrate orders, you already have a head start. You know that you can expect certain features. They will sometimes not be in an obvious form, but that can be part of the fun. For example....

Vertebrates generally have four "legs". Very obvious in a cow. Not so obvious in a human... two arms replace two of the "legs"... but they are pretty "leg like", when you think about it. What about birds? Two spindly legs underneath... and two wings. If you take the feathers and skin off of a wing, you'll find bones inside the wing which are very like the bones in a cow's leg and a human's arm.

In fish, the four "legs" are even less like a cow's legs than the wings of a bird... but there are two pairs of fins in about the right spots.

However, such things can't be taken too far. The squid has an eye which is remarkably like a human eye. But no one thinks that squids and humans are particularly similar. They are both chordates... they are in the same phylum, so they are more similar than either is similar to, say, a butterfly... but they're still very different, and put in separate categories very near the top of the tree as a result.

If you want to remember the names of the various groups, in order from "main groups" down to sub- divisions of sub- divisions of sub- divisions..., there are two mnemonics I would recommend to you:

King Philip Came Over From German Singing

(or "Sozzled"), or....

Kids Playing Chicken on Freeways Get Squished

One last example....

So! We've learned that saying the genus and species name for something, e.g. Corvus corax, you have "named" a particular type of organism.

Ravens are in the "crow" family. The magpie is also in the crow family. It is not quite so like a raven as the birds we normally call "a crow"... but they are similar.

We can tell this from the scientific name for a magpie: Pica pica. They are in the crow family, as I said... but in a different genus, the "Pica" genus, where you find the many varieties of magpie. While some people don't like magpies, they are unusually intelligent birds, they will make you smile, if you watch them with an open mind, and I find their quiet little "talking to one another" sounds are pleasant... although when they are "shouting" the noise is less attractive. A bit like some ten year olds I know.

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