A Little Taxonomic History

A little Taxonomic History

We have a lot of species on earth, about 8.7 million plant and animal species is the latest estimate.  Some think if you add in things such as lichens, mushrooms and bacteria the total number of all living things would be closer to 11.3 million species.  In scientific terms, ‘a heck of a lot’.

How do we keep all this organized in a way we can better understand and study the diversity of life? This is where taxonomy comes in.  Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, is regarded as the father of taxonomy.  Carl developed a system known as Linnaean taxonomy in which organisms could be categorized.  He also developed the scientific binomial nomenclature for naming organisms using Latin which we still use today. Why Latin? Using Latin was clever because people from different countries using different languages can communicate accurately as to a specific species without confusion.

Carl LinnaeusCarl Linnaeus

In 1735 Linnaeus published Systema Naturae, the tenth edition of this book published in 1758 is considered the starting point of International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Now here is the interesting thing about Carl’s taxonomy, it’s frozen in time, there is no before and there is no after. Carl recognized the need to have a systematic method of classification for plant and animal life so we can be organized about it all and kudos to him for coming up with his system.  At the time he assumed species did not evolve so there was no need to show lineage. He explicitly recognized the hierarchical nature of species relationships, but still viewed species as fixed according to a divine plan.

The expansion of Linnaeus’s taxonomy system to include lineage became necessary once Paleontologists and Paleoanthropologists (though not called that at the time) started to discover fossils like dinosaurs.  Then suddenly it dawned on people, hey evolution.

Erasmus DarwinErasmus Darwin

A lot of people think that Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution but several individuals were postulating the idea before him even going back to ancient Greece and pre-Socratic times. In 1794 Erasmus Darwin, a renowned English physician and Charles Darwin’s grandfather, penned a work titled ‘Zoonomia’.  In it he theorizes and describes one of the first modern theories on animal evolution.  However, Charles Darwin did bring the concept of evolution and its processes to the masses with his 1859 book “On the Origin of Species”.

Charles Darwin

With the acceptance of evolution as a scientific fact the Linnaean system has progressed to a system of modern biological classification based on the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both living and extinct.

Oh My

Typically, in secondary education this is what you get for the taxonomy of Modern Man. 

Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Mammalia
Order – Primates
Family – Hominidae
Genus – Homo
Species – sapiens

The following is the full monty.

  1. Kingdom - Animalia

  2. Subkingdom - Eumetazoa

  3. Clade - Bilateria

  4. Clade - Nephrozoa

  5. Superphylum - Deuterostomia

  6. Phylum - Chordata

  7. Clade - Craniata

  8. Subphylum - Vertebrata

  9. Infraphylum - Gnathostomata

  10. Clade - Eugnathostomata

  11. Clade - Teleostomi

  12. Superclass - Tetrapoda

  13. Clade - Reptiliomorpha

  14. Clade - Amiota

  15. Clade - Synapsida

  16. Clade - Mammaliaformes

  17. Class - Mammalia

  18. Clade - Eutheria

  19. Infraclass - Placentalia

  20. Clade - Exafroplacentalia

  21. Magnorder- Boreoeutheria

  22. Superorder - Euarchontoglires

  23. Grandorder - Euarchonta

  24. Miorder - Primatomorpha

  25. Order - Primates

  26. Suborder - Haplorhini

  27. Infraorder - Simiformes

  28. Pavorder - Catarrhini

  29. Superfamily - Hominoidea

  30. Family - Hominidae

  31. Subfamily - Homininae

  32. Tribe – Hominini

  33. Sub Tribe - Homininia

  34. Genus - Homo

  35. Species - sapiens

  36. Subspecies - sapiens sapiens

Don't worry I am not going to test you on this.  However, I think it's great that you read thru the classification levels for modern man once and by once, I mean once in a lifetime.


The Tribe ‘Hominini’ starts with the first species in our human lineage after the split with our last common ancestor the chimpanzee.  Every species in the human legacy is a hominin.



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