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Systema Naturae by Charles Linnaean

What is Scientific Classification?

Scientific classification is how scientists categorize  and name plants and animals.

Why do we need scientific classification?

In order to effectively study plants and animals, all scientists need to use the same names.  Using the same names keeps scientists from getting confused about what species is being referred to. Our current day classification system was created by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeaus in 1757; this is what we refer to as Taxonomy.

What is the Linnaean taxonomic system?

The Linnaean taxonomic system is quite useful as a classification system.  Not only does it provide official names for every plant and animal, it also helps scientists understand how objects are related to one another. The Linnaean system is based on a series of nested categories. Each Linnaean name is based on Latin and Greek root words which are often difficult to pronounce.

People that are not scientists use common names. For example, the blues whale is known by two names: 1) Most people call them by their common name: "blue whale" while 2) Scientists use the blue whale's scientific name: Balaenoptera musculus.

How does taxonomy relate to marine mammals?

Marine mammals are animals that are warm-blooded with back bones that live in water.  This information can also be discovered by looking at marine mammal taxonomic classifications.  These classifications allow people to better understand how marine mammals are related to other animals.  The chart below is a sample taxonomic chart for blue whales.


Blue Whale Example




Whales belong to the  kingdom Animalia because whales, have many cells, ingest food, and are formed from a "blastula" (from a fertilized egg).



An animal from the phylum Chordata has a spinal cord and gill pouches.



Whales and other mammals are warm blooded, have glands to provide milk for their off-spring, and have a four-chambered heart.



Cetaceans are mammals live completely in the water.



Whales that belong to the suborder Mysticeti  have baleen plates (big filters in their mouths) rather than teeth.



The family Balaenidae, also called rorqual whales. They have pleats around their throat that allow them to hold lots of water (which contains their food).



A genus is a group of species that are more closely related to one another than any group in the family. Balaenoptera refers to the genus.



A species is a grouping of individuals that interbreed successfully.  The blue whale species name is musculus.

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