One of a Kind
Species is a word used to describe a single kind of animal, plant or other living thing. To determine a species, scientists look at features like shape, color, behavior, and the genes that make one species different from all other species. An example of two different species of cat is the tiger and lion. Only individuals of the same species can mate and have young.
Club moss with full fruiting bodies. Club mosses, unlike flowering plants, reproduce by spores, not seeds.
Biodiversity: Lots of Different Species
Red pandas, humans, and orangutans are just a few examples of individual species. The huge variety of living species on Earth is called biodiversity. The rich biodiversity of species is what makes living on Earth so exciting! Most scientists believe preserving strong biodiversity is the most important thing to focus on now and in the future. People work so hard to conserve places like tropical rainforests, because they have millions of species. In other words, they have lots of biodiversity!
A Scientific Naming System
Domestic Asian elephants do work. A person called a mahout trains the elephants and cares for them. These elephants work and live in Thailand.
There are many different kinds of living things on our planet. To keep track of them all, scientists organize them into groups, or classify them. Every living thing that has been identified has two names, a genus name and a species name.
We call this two-word combination a species’ scientific name. For example, Homo sapiens, is the genus-species name for humans. Every scientific name is written with the first word, the genus, capitalized and the second word, the species, in lower case.
Making Sure Everyone’s on the Same Page
Gobi fish (Gobiidae: spp.) clean dead skin and parasites off other fish. Gobi fish will group together and create a “cleaning station” where other fish come to be cleaned. Relationships like this in which two different species live closely together are called symbiotic relationships.
This way of grouping and naming things is called taxonomy. By using taxonomy, all species in the world are named using the same formula and language. This way every scientist knows what another scientist is talking about – even if the scientists are from different countries and speak different languages.
What's in a Name?
The hippopotamus feeds on plants and spends most of its time in the water. Hippos have large teeth and tusks. They may become dangerous if they feel challenged or threatened. The hippo’s common name is the same as its scientific genus name, Hippopotamus.
The genus-species name often gives information about what the species is, where it is from, or who discovered it. The common zebra from sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is called Equus grevyi (pronounced: ekwas grevee-ay). Equus is a Greek word for horse and grevyi comes from Grevy, which was the last name of the president of France at the time European scientists first classified the zebra.
Sometimes the common name and the scientific name are the same. For example, you can probably guess what a Hippopotamus amphibius is. You know it by the genus name, Hippopotamus, which means "river horse.” Its short name is hippo.
The Rarest of the Rare
The I’iwi bird is a species that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. As a result of habitat destruction, overhunting, and an introduced strain of the disease avian malaria, these birds are now an endangered species.
If a species lives in only one place, in one set of environmental conditions, and nowhere else, it is called an endemic species. This automatically makes most endemic species quite rare. Not surprisingly, endemic species are often endangered or threatened. Habitat damage caused by human actions or natural disasters in the place they live could cause them to die off completely, or become extinct.
Species and Mythology
Many cultures have myths to explain where species come from. The myths usually tell about an important species in a particular area. They often explain how that species is connected to the lives of the people in that area. We can learn many things by listening carefully to these stories. We can learn about the behavior of the species and about the places the species lives. We can even learn about the people telling the story and why they think the species is important.
Species Under the Microscope
What we can not learn from myths is why an individual species is not quite like any other species on Earth. To understand what makes a species belong to its own group, scientists use the science of genetics. They use special equipment to study differences in the genetic make-up of the cells of different species.