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What is classifications?

Why do plants look so different, while other look the same with a colour change? 

Take a rose for example, even though roses can come in so many different colours, orange, yellow, pink, white, red, we still know, it’s a rose. By saying a flower is a rose, others will understand what the flower looks like and how it behaves.

At a higher level, classification helps us to make sense of the world, by grouping organisms. Scientists classify organisms so they can communicate with each other despite their locations and languages. 

Source: https://www.fiftyflowers.com/blog/rose-color-meanings/


  1. What is classification.
  2. Why do we classify organisms.
  3. Why do we use scientific names.  
  4. Early classification systems.

When did classification start?

Try to imagine yourself living in the wild. Before you could just walk down to McDonalds and buy a cheese burger, you had to hunt and forage for your food. 

Look at the images of mushrooms below, only one of them won’t kill you. Scroll over each one to see which one is safe to eat. 

Omphalotus nidiformis


Omphalotus nidiformis AKA the ghost fungus, is a mushroom found in Southern Australia and Tasmania. While it won't kill you it will cause severe cramps and vomiting.

Amanita phalloides


Amanita phalloides, AKA the Death Cap mushroom damages your liver and kidneys leading to death. Even if you survive, you'll have major kidney and liver damage for the rest of your life.

Pleurotus ostreatus


Pleurotus ostreatus AKA the oyster mushroom is a common edible mushroom. While these mushrooms are edible, there are look alike mushrooms which are very poisonous.

Early humans would classify animals, plants, fungus and insects into what would and wouldn’t hurt them. Plants would be grouped into medicinal or poisonous. Insects could be classified into nutritious or dangerous. Animals could be classified as those that produced things (like milk and eggs) and those that don’t. Over time however, our classification system has grown and become more complex. 

Using Scientific Names

As we mentioned before, classification helps us communicate to other scientists regardless of language. When we are talking to someone in Germany about an animal we have seen in Australia, we need a unique name to make sure everyone knows exactly what we are talking about. The reason we need scientific names for animals is because they can vary so much between countries and continents. Take skunks for example.

Below are 4 images of skunks that can be found across North America, Norther Mexica and Southern Canada. If you talk to a scientist and say you saw a skunk, it could mean any of the species below. However, if you say to someone I saw a Mephitis macroura they’ll know exactly which species of skunk you saw.

Select each image to see their common name and scientific name. 

We’ve probably all seen magpies flying around and swooping down on people. When you say to your friend, I saw a magpie, they probably instantly think of the bird below. 

However, if you mention you saw a magpie to someone from northern Europe (Norway, Sweden etc), they’ll think of the bird below. The Eurasian magpie.

If your speaking to someone from America, they’ll imagine the Black-billed magpie, pictured below.

If you’re speaking to someone from China, Korea or Taiwan, they’ll picture the Oriental magpie (below). 

This is why it is important for us to have use scientific names for animals and have a common language for classification that everyone can understand.

Classifying Organisms

Formal classification methods have been around for centuries. Aristotle (a Greek philosopher) was the first scientists to use a system to describe plants and animals. These systems were built around what the animals structure and characteristics were. 

In the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus developed a new, simpler system for classifying organisms. He decided that there were 7 levels or groups an organisms sits in. The first group is the largest and most broad (i.e. Animal, Plant, Fungi etc..). From there, each subsequent group becomes more specific. Eventually the organisms ends up with a scientific name, based on the groups it sits in. Currently we have 8 levels or groups of classification.

source: https://sciencemusicvideos.com/ap-biology/evolution-natural-selection-unit-7-menu/phylogeny-and-classification/


  • Classifying helps us all speak a common language. 

  • Classifying is useful for our survival. 

  • We group organisms based on their structure and characteristics. 

  • When classifying an organism we start general and gradually get more specific. 

Test your knowledge

Click the ‘question mark’ to test your knowledge with some questions and activities.


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