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How do you Say Florida Manatee in Science-speak?
Or...All Kingdoms Aren't Just for Kings

Did you know that scientists discovered a long time ago that they needed a universal language for talking about animals and plants? They created a system of naming called "taxonomy." Taxonomy, a classification system that is now used throughout the scientific community looks complicated, but every living thing is classified using it. It is broken down into these categories:

  • kingdom
  • phylum (called, "division" with plants)
  • class
  • order
  • family
  • genus
  • species
  • subspecies

Taxonomy: Comparing a Human with a Florida Manatee
To build a better understanding of how this system of classification works let's take a look at 2 of our favorite Genus and species:

Homo sapiens
(Our manatee Expert-
Cathy Beck)
Trichechus manatus latirostris
Credit: FWC

Human being
Florida manatee
(called "division" with plants)

(animals with backbones)

(animals with backbones)
(with hair, female produces milk)
(with hair, female produces milk)
(apes and monkeys)
(aquatic herbivorous/plant-eating)
mankind (hominidae)
(with extinct Neanderthals, etc.)
(all manatees)
(all West Indian manatees)
Trichechus manatus latirostris
(Florida manatee)

First- Human Beings
At every step down the classification ladder, the thing that we are is narrowed down. At first we're just animals. Then the phylum grouping separates us from all animals without backbones, such as sponges, insects, and worms. Next we go on to the class, all mammals, from mice to humans, belong to the same class. On down the ladder we go until we land at the species level; where we find the species "sapiens," and that animal is us; Homo sapiens.

Next the Florida Manatee
You can see that that people and the Florida Manatee share kingdom, phylum, and class, but then the Florida Manatee takes a different route down the ladder when we come to the order. The Florida Manatee belongs to the order Sirenia (aquatic herbivorous mammals including manatees and dugongs), and beneath that it belongs to the family Trichechidae, which includes all three kinds of manatees (but not dugongs, which belong to the family Dugongidae). Under the family Trichechidae, all manatees fall in the genus Trichechus. After that there are three species of manatees, and the Florida Manatee belongs to the West Indian manatee species Trichechus manatus, and specifically the Florida Manatee is a subspecies known as Trichechus manatus latirostris.

It’s Not as Simple as This
In the old days we learned that all living things were either in the Kingdom for plants or animals. Many books today teach that 5 Kingdoms exist:

  • The kingdom "MONERA": bacteria and blue-green algae
  • The kingdom "PROTISTA": one-celled organisms
  • The kingdom of FUNGI: mushrooms, molds, etc.
  • The kingdom of PLANTS
  • The kingdom of ANIMALS

Today the fields of classification and taxonomy are undergoing a real revolution. As we have developed more advanced science technology we realize that putting all living things into just 5 categories is a simplification of what is really going on.

A Memory Tip:
Try this pneumonic device to remember the classification order of all living things. Say the sentence aloud,

Kings Play Chess On Fine Grained Sand.”

Think: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

The first letter of each word helps you remember the corresponding word in the classification ladder.


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