Classification

Animals and plants are classified in hierarchical groups, similar to nesting Matryoshka dolls placed within each other.

Babushka dolls

The biggest Matryoshka doll we’ll consider for now is “Kingdom.” Plants, animals and protists comprise different biological kingdoms. The smallest Matryoshka doll we’ll consider for now is the species. Between kingdoms and species there are 5 additional levels. For example, each kingdom is divided into phyla. All vertebrate animals are in the Chordata phylum.

Here is a list of each classification level from kingdom down to the species:

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum (pl. phyla)
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus (pl. genera)
  • species (pl. species)

It is good, practical advice to memorize these seven levels:

“kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.”

Can you make up a memorable acronym to help you remember their order? Here’s one:

“King Phillip can only find green slippers.”

Can you come up with one you like better?

Common names are often inadequate, so biologists use scientific names instead. In England, some poet or storyteller might refer to the Robin with its red-breast, yet American readers may be interested to know that the American Robin is a different bird. The European Robin (below left) is Erithacus rubecula, and the American Robin (below right) is Turdus migratorius. Using scientific names does not often make for great poetry, but it does make clear which bird is intended.

European Robin American Robin

“Binomial nomenclature” means to name something with two names. The scientific name for any living thing is comprised of two parts: Genus + species. For example, the scientific name of the American Robin is Turdus migratorius. The Genus name (Turdus) begins in upper case, and the species name (migratorius) is indicated in all lower case.

Complete the worksheet below to see some examples of biological classification and binomial nomenclature.

Classification

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