Classification of Living Things

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

How do you classify and name living organisms?

Earth has an amazing variety of living organisms. You could probably name hundreds of them: cows, dogs, grasshoppers, mushrooms, trees, foxes, flowers, bacteria You may even know the names of several dog breeds. However, do you know the names of other organisms in languages other than English? 

How do you create names for organisms that can be used anywhere in the world? This is where taxonomic classification, also called the Linnaean system, comes into play.

classification living organisms

Named after its inventor, Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician, the Linnaean classification system has 8 levels of classification. You may also hear this called taxonomic rank. You will often see the levels displayed like a triangle. This is because the levels at the top are broad and general whereas the levels at the bottom are more specific. As you move down levels of taxonomic classification, the organisms will be more similar to one another.

The 8 levels of Taxonomic Classification are:









Let’s take a look at an example of a fox.

Classification fox

We will start at the domain level. There are three domains in all: Eukarya, Bacteria, and Archaea. Organisms that fall under the eukarya domain have cells with nuclei whereas organisms that fall under prokaryote or archaea have cells that lack a nucleus. Foxes’ cells have nuclei, and therefore they are eukaryotic organisms. This eliminates the bacteria because a bacteria does not have a nucleus

Next comes kingdom. There are 6 kingdoms: Protista, Fungi, Plantae, Animalia, Archaebacteria, and Eubacteria. Foxes are animals and thus fall under the Animalia kingdom. This eliminates the plant because it belongs in the plant kingdom

There are dozens of phyla. Some examples include Mollusca (clams), Arthropoda (crabs), , Protozoa (amoebas), Cnidaria (jellyfish), and Chordata (dogs, bats, fish, etc.). Foxes belong under the phylum Chordata because they have a spinal cord and bilaterally symmetrical bodies. 

This eliminates the insect because they have an exoskeleton

Then comes class. Foxes are classified under Mammalia, meaning they have special glands they can use to provide milk to their young. In addition, all organisms that fall under the classification of Mammals have hair on their bodies at some point in their lives. You may know that whales are mammals, and may be surprised to learn that even some of these sea creatures are born with hair. This hair falls off quickly after birth, however.

This eliminates the frog because a frog is an amphibian and not a mammal

Foxes belong to the order Carnivora because they have specialized teeth that can be used to eat other vertebrates. This eliminates the cow which is found in the order ARTIODACTYLA. 

Foxes are classified under the Canidae family, which is also nicknamed the “dog family.” Wolves, dogs, coyotes, and jackals all belong to this family. This eliminates the polar bear 

Next is genus. Foxes have the genus Vulpes, which means fox in Latin. Organisms that belong to this genus are often referred to as true foxes and are identified by the color difference between their tails and the rest of their bodies and the black triangular markings between their eyes and nose. This levels eliminates the dog which belongs to genus canis

Lastly, the fox’s species label is also vulpes. Thus, the scientific name for a fox is Vulpes vulpes, literally translating to “fox fox”. This eliminates the Fennec Fox.

classification of fox

To sum it up, the whole classification for a fox would be: 

Domain - Eukarya

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Mammalia

Order - Carnivora

Family - Canis

Genus - Vulpes

Species - Vulpes

However, you only have to use an organism’s genus and species when creating the scientific name.

Related Links

How to memorize levels of classification

The Three Domains of Classification

Scientific Nane


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