• Question: When classifying animals is it possible to identify features of an animal as soon as you reach "genus" and "family"?

    Asked by watsonjc06 to Carol, John, Phil, Rebecca on 4 Jul 2012.
    • Photo: John Welford

      John Welford answered on 4 Jul 2012:

      I had no idea about this, so I’ve just looked into it and I think my answer is “probably”.

      What you’re asking about is how animals are biologically classified in “Taxonomic rank”. This starts at the top level separating animals from bacteria and plants, and then gets more and more specific at lower levels to eventually separate humans from monkeys. “species” is the bottom level (e.g. human), “genus” is above it, and “family” is a few levels above that.

      You could think of it as a big tree diagram, with sub-categories branching off at each level. Ideally different species are placed on a branch at the bottom of the tree based on their genetic heritage – what they evolved from, but I don’t think that has to be the case.

      If that’s not known or doesn’t seem appropriate for some reason then where they are placed will have to be based on their features. Either way you would expect animals to be more and similar as you split them into smaller and smaller groups as you worked your way down the tree.

      So you can probably get general features at the “family” level and more specific ones at the “genus” level. It would probably depend what part of the tree you were on as to what questions you could ask though. For example “number of arms/legs” might be answered higher up in the “primates” section than it is in the “insects” section?

      It’s not really my area, but I hope that helps!?

    • Photo: Carol White

      Carol White answered on 4 Jul 2012:

      Hello again!

      So I identify “foraminifera” a lot….

      First I work out what family my sample is, from it’s shape, the spirals, the chamber shape and size, and the holes it has.

      Then it’s quite hard to work out. I have a catalogue of all known species, so I work through photos and descriptions and cross out all the ones it definitely is not!

      I usually get to “genus” quickly enough.

      Species is more difficult, as it could be really subtle changes in texture – but different species have very definite descriptions! So you have to be really careful there to make sure you’re seeing it properly.

      Luckily for me, I only have to get down to genus level. If I have time I find the species – and I always hope it’s a new one 🙂