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Encyclopedia > Animalia


Aphthona flava flea beetle.
Scientific classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia

Animals are a major group of organisms, classified as the kingdom Animalia. These are generally multicellular, capable of locomotion and responding to their environment, and feed by consuming other organisms. Their body plan becomes fixed as they develop, usually early on in their development as embryos, unless they undergo a process of metamorphosis. Humans are animals, though colloquially the term is often taken to exclude them. The word comes from the Latin word animalis (plural animalia) and ultimately from anima, meaning vital breath, soul.

With a few exceptions, most notably the sponges, animals have differentiated tissues, including a nervous system and muscles, and an internal digestive chamber. Groups with this organization may be called metazoan, though that word is also used for the animals in general.


Cell structure and development

All animals have eukaryotic cells, surrounded by a characteristic extracellular matrix composed of collagen and elastic glycoproteins. This may be calcified to form shells, bones, and spicules. During development it forms a relatively flexible framework upon which cells can move about and be reorganized, making a wide variety of complex structures possible.

Most animals are diploid, but polyploid species are known. In sexual reproduction animals produce small motile sperm and large non-motile ova by meiosis. New animals develop from zygotes formed by fusion of the two. Initially the zygote divides to form a hollow sphere called a blastula, which undergoes rearrangement and differentiation. In metazoans, it invaginates to form a gastrula with a digestive chamber. This divides into germ layers that differentiate into tissues: an external ectoderm, internal endoderm, and usually a mesoderm between them.

In contrast, other multicellular organisms such as plants and fungi usually have cells held in place by cell walls, so the sort of complex rearrangements found in animal development can't occur. Instead, they develop by progressive growth.

Origin and fossil record

Animals are generally considered to have evolved from flagellate protozoa. Their closest living relatives are the choanoflagellates, which produce collars identical to those found in certain sponge cells. They also appear closely related to fungi. These form a supergroup called the opisthokonts because their motile cells are propelled by a posterior flagellum, as can be seen in most animal sperm.

The first fossils that might represent animals appear towards the end of the Precambrian, and are called Vendian biota. These are difficult to relate to later forms, however, and may even belong to a completely different group. Aside from them, almost every animal phylum with known fossil forms makes a more or less simultaneous appearance during the Cambrian period, about 570 million years ago; this massive adaptive radiation is called the Cambrian explosion.

Non-metazoan groups

The sponges (Porifera) were separated from the other animals early on, and are very different. Sponges are sessile and usually feed by drawing in water through pores all over the body, which is supported by a skeleton typically divided into spicules - the cells are differentiated, but not organized into distinct groups.

There are also three problematic phyla - the Rhombozoa, Orthonectida, and Placozoa - that have an unclear position with respect to other animals. When they were first discovered, the Protozoa were considered as an animal phylum or subkingdom, but as they are generally unrelated and often as similar to plants as animals, a new kingdom, the Protista, was devised to hold them.


Aside from these, all animals belong to a monophyletic group called the Metazoa (called the Eumetazoa when the name Metazoa is used for all animals), characterized by a digestive chamber and separate cell layers that differentiate into various tissues. Distinguishing features of the Metazoa include a nervous system and muscles.

The simplest Metazoa are radially symmetric and diploblastic, that is, they have two germ layers. The outer layer (ectoderm) corresponds to the surface of the blastula and the inner layer (endoderm) is formed by cells that migrate into the interior. It then invaginates to form a digestive cavity with a single opening (the archenteron). This form is called a gastrula or planula when it is free_swimming. The Cnidaria (jellyfish, anenomes, corals, etc) are the main diploblastic phylum; the Ctenophora (comb jellies) may also belong here. The Myxozoa, a group of microscopic parasites, have been considered reduced cnidarians but may instead be derived from the Bilateria.

The remaining forms comprise a group called the Bilateria, since they are bilaterally symmetric (at least to some degree), and are triploblastic. The blastula invaginates without filling in first, so the endoderm is simply its inner lining, and the interior then fills in to become a third layer (mesoderm) between the others. Like tissues are grouped into organs. The simplest of such animals are the Platyhelminthes (flatworms), which may be paraphyletic to the higher phyla.

The vast majority of the triploblastic phyla form a group called the Protostomia. These phyla all have a complete digestive tract (including a mouth and an anus), with the mouth developing from the archenteron and the anus arising later. The mesoderm arises as in the flatworms, from a single cell, and then divides to form a mass on each side of the body. Usually there is a hollow space around the gut, called the coelom, arising from a split within the mesoderm, or at least some reduced version thereof (eg a pseudocoelom, where the split occurs between the mesoderm and endoderm, common in microscopic forms).

Some of the main protostome phyla are united by the presence of trochophore larva, which are distinguished by a special pattern of cilia. These make up a group called the Trochozoa, comprising the following:

Traditionally the Arthropoda - the largest animal phylum including insects, spiders, crabs, and kin - and two small phyla closely related to it, the Onychophora and Tardigrada, have been considered close relatives of the Annelida on account of their common segmented body plan (the Articulata hypothesis). This relationship is now in doubt, and it appears that instead they belong with various pseudocoelomate worms _ the Nematoda (roundworms), Nematomorpha (horsehair worms), Kinorhyncha, Loricifera, and Priapulida - which share with them ecdysis and several other characteristics. This group is called the Ecdysozoa.

There are various pseudocoelomate protostomes that are hard to classify because of their small size and reduced structure. The Rotifera and Acanthocephala are closely related to each other and probably belong near the Trochozoa. Other groups include the Gastrotricha, Gnathostomulida, Entoprocta, and Cycliophora. The last was discovered only recently, and as little investigation has been done into the marine world more will probably turn up. Most of these were originally grouped as the phylum Aschelminthes, together with the Nematoda and others, but they do not appear particularly closely related to each other.

The Brachiopoda (lamp shells), Ectoprocta (=Bryozoa, literally moss animals), and Phoronida form a group called the Lophophorata, thanks to the shared presence of a fan of cilia around the mouth called the lophophore. The evolutionary relationships of these forms are very unclear - the group has even been considered among the deuterostomes, and may be paraphyletic. They are most likely related to the Trochozoa, however, and the two are often grouped as the Lophotrochozoa.

The Deuterostomes differ from the Protostomes in various ways. They also have a complete digestive tract, but in this case the archenteron develops into the anus. The mesoderm and coelom do not form in the same way, but rather through evagination of the endoderm called enterocoelic pouching. And, finally, the embryonic cleavage is different. All this suggests that the two lines are separate and monophyletic. The Deuterostomes include:

There are also some extinct animal phyla that, without much knowledge of their embryology or internal structure, are very difficult to place. These are mostly from the cambrian period, and include

  • Phylum Archaeocyatha (possibly sponges)
  • Phylum Conulariida (possibly cnidarians)
  • Phylum Conodonta (possibly chordates or near relatives thereof).
  • Phylum Lobopoda (probably arthropods)
  • Phylum Sclerotoma (several otherwise different forms with sclerites)
  • Phylum Vendozoa (some Precambrian forms, possibly not even animal)

History of classification

In Linnaeus' original scheme, the animals were one of three kingdoms, divided into the classes of Vermes, Insecta, Pisces, Amphibia, Aves, and Mammalia. Since then the last four have all been subsumed into a single phylum, the Chordata, whereas the various other forms have been separated out. The above lists represent our current understanding of the group, though there is some variation from source to source.


Some well-known types of animals, listed by their common names:

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

  Results from FactBites:
ADW: Animalia: Information (410 words)
All animals are members of the Kingdom Animalia, also called Metazoa.
This Kingdom does not contain the prokaryotes (Kingdom Monera, includes bacteria, blue-green algae) or the protists (Kingdom Protista, includes unicellular eukaryotic organisms).
All members of the Animalia are multicellular, and all are heterotrophs (that is, they rely directly or indirectly on other organisms for their nourishment).
Animalia by Graeme Base - Book Review (479 words)
ANIMALIA's challenging vocabulary is well supported by vivid artwork.
But ANIMALIA assumes readers are intelligent, and older kids will enjoy the sophisticated art and text.
ANIMALIA takes readers on a leisurely march through the alphabet--leisurely, because it's improbable that anyone will hurry through this spectacular oversized illustrated book.
  More results at FactBites »



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