Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Cohen. Cohen Wonders, “How many plants and animals did Carl Linnaeus classify?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Cohen!
Do you ever sit back and WONDER at the wide variety of life on planet Earth? Think about it! There are more plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria than most people would care to count.
Luckily for us, though, many people throughout history have cared to count them. And, more than that, they’ve classified them. Much of the system we use today to classify living things can be traced back to one scientist. His name was Carl Linnaeus.
Carl Linnaeus was born in Sweden in 1707. As a young man, he attended the University of Lund and, later, Uppsala University. He studied science and medicine. In 1732, he set out to explore the plants and animals of Lapland, part of modern day Finland.
These studies led Linnaeus to build a system for classifying forms of life. He wrote about his ideas in a book he titled “Systema Naturae.” Linnaeus gave each life form two names—its genus followed by its species. He further grouped life into larger categories. He called these genera, orders, classes, and kingdoms.
Have you heard some of these words before? If so, you may already know a bit about taxonomy! This is the system scientists use to classify species today. It was built largely on the work of Linnaeus. In fact, we still identify life forms using their genus and species today. This is called a creature’s scientific name.
For example, the scientific name for humans is Homo sapiens. That means we’re part of the Homo genus. We have characteristics that make us our own species within that group.
What are the other categories of life? If you had a list of every living thing on Earth, it could first be divided into three domains. These are Eukarya, Bacteria, and Archaea. From there, each life form fits into a group within those domains called a kingdom.
Kingdoms then divide into phyla, and from phyla into classes. Inside each class, there are multiple orders. These are then broken down into families, then genuses, and finally species. Each step of the way, specific characteristics decide which group a form of life fits into. A species will have much more in common with others in its genus than most of those in its kingdom.
Modern science still uses much of Carl Linnaeus’s classification system. However, some parts of it have fallen out of use over time. For example, Linnaeus included other parts of the natural world, such as minerals, in his system. Still, his impact on taxonomy was so great that some people call Linnaeus the most influential person in history. In total, he classified more than 12,000 plants and animals during his lifetime.
Do you like learning about all the forms life takes on planet Earth? How would you classify plants and animals, if you came up with your own system?
Standards: NGSS.LS3.B, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.W.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2