While zoology might sound a bit of an obscure discipline at first, it actually makes up one of the three main branches of biology, which also include botany and microbiology. A scientist involved in zoology can study a range of different subjects, from animal physiology and animal behavior, to entomology and biochemistry.
What exactly is zoology though? The simple definition involves its primary goal: studying everything about animals, from the unique ecosystem they might be living in to the molecular processes that help it survive. Zoologists can be found leading an innovative research project, being involved in laboratory work, to heading wildlife management involving living organisms in national parks. The more complex definition, and the one that will help you study concept you might be studying, starts with the history of zoology as a discipline.
What is Zoology?
Zoology, which focuses on the animal kingdom instead of the plant kingdom, is part of the three main branches of biology. This field strives to understand the cellular development of animals, as well as the interaction between animals' interactions with the environment surrounding them. Similar to the field of botany, the history of the discipline starts at the dawn of human civilization and their problems related to sustenance.
Meaning, zoology began as a method of understanding animals in order to improve hunting, and later expanded to include the domestication of animals. The extensive and detailed knowledge on these communities of animals, and the relationship to their environments, formed the basis of zoology today.
It was during the 18th century that zoology and its field of study shifted with the invention of a system of nomenclature by the scientist Carolus Linnaeus. This new system did classify animas and their functions as unique, but instead in relation with one another.
The 19th century concern with everything related to cellular and molecular inquiry also penetrated into the field of zoology. Zoologist Georges Cuvier one again revolutionized the history of the study with his invention of comparative anatomy, which was influenced both by cell theory and advancements in the fields of developmental biology and embryology.
The now infamous Charles Darwin produced yet another landmark in the history of zoology in the 1900s. His development of evolutionary theory didn't just uproot the botanical sciences, but everything related to organismal science.
The 20th and 21st century saw yet another shift in zoological science once more, growing less concerned with classification efforts, and prioritizing efforts in attempting to solve the world’s biological problems through experimentation conservation.
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How to Study Zoology
If you’re reading interested in zoology, chances are you are either already an undergraduate exploring possible degrees in science, a biology major already, or are simply taking it as part of a required structure or as an elective. If you happen to be none of the above, an are simply curious about the many fields of biology, as well as the structure and function of the animal kingdom, these helpful tips can apply to you as well as those studying up for future exams.
The study of animals within biology courses can take on several approaches – here, we focus on understanding some of the basic terms within zoology. As this biological science deals with everything organismal, it is important to understand some of the distinctions within the animal kingdom.
Growing up, the depiction of these slimy creatures in the domains of electrical and literary entertainment were mostly limited to frogs. The seemingly lacking diversity is due to the fact that many people don’t know that salamanders, newts, toads, and blind worms are also considered to be amphibians. In fact, there are more than 4,000 different types of amphibians in the world.
What exactly is an amphibian? They are actually quite special creatures, in the sense that they can both live in aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The word for these animals, amphibian, can actually find its roots in the Greek word for “living a double life.” They make up the class Amphibia and are vertebrates.
The official derivation for what exactly vertebrates are can sound a bit complicated at first. Within the phylum Chordata, vertebrates form the biggest subphylum. This, however, has to do only with the technicalities of their classification. What makes animals part of this subphylum is if they have some important characteristics:
- The presence of a backbone
- Have a muscular system
- Have a central nervous system
- Part of this central nervous system is protected by the backbone
These animals make up the group of creatures you are most likely to be familiar with, and include all fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. In scientific terms, respectively, these are Osteichthyes, Amphibia, Reptilia, Aves and Mammalia. You might be wondering, if this group includes all of these, what animals are left? We next examine the invertebrates.
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As the name suggests, building off of the previous term, invertebrates for the class of animals that do not posses a vertebral column, aka a backbone. While it might seem as if this category doesn’t contain as many animals as those classified as vertebrates, this is entirely false. In fact, the opposite is true: 90% of all the living creatures on earth are classified as invertebrates.
Invertebrates range from many of the sea creatures featured in aquariums, like jellyfish, sea urchins and sponges – they also make up the class of animals humans actually eat! These include animals like squid, snails, crabs and lobsters.
On the subject of food, invertebrates are also extremely important for the food chain as a whole, rather than just as a source for seafood. They are the class of animals that feed fish, birds, seals, and many other vertebrate animals. These animals help support not only the animal kingdom, but the biological processes therein.
Chances are, if you’re a human living on planet earth you’ve most likely learned about or even encountered some reptiles in real life. Some popular examples include snakes, lizards and crocodiles – however, did you know that turtles are actually also reptiles as well?
Reptiles get a bad rap in Hollywood – Godzilla is an amphibious, reptilian, crazed monster after all. However, scientists have ascertained that some reptiles and birds actually share common ancestors. This brings up the important point that the world contained many more reptiles some millions of years ago. In fact, many of the animals that have gone extinct over the course of the earth’s history have been reptiles, ranging from marine reptiles to dinosaurs.
There are many characteristics that define reptiles, including:
- Epidermal scales
- Scales that contain beta keratin and alpha keratin
- Having an occipital condyle, which is nothing more than a specific feature that is present at the attachment of the skull and the vertebra)
- Lacking an anterior coronoid bone (part of the lower jaw)
- Development of embryos is mostly external (eggs, for example)
While it is noted that reptiles have less of an economic impact on human life in comparison to other vertebrates, they do contribute much by way of pest control.
If you were asked to identify your habitat, would you be able to correctly do so relative to the definition of habitat? If you have some doubts, we’ll remind you of a few important characteristics of the habitat. This specific term is defined as a unique environment where one organism, or a network of organisms, live, including all nonliving and living things in that specific environment.
Here, we’ll give a specific example. If you were to identify your habitat as the city in which you live, including all of the non-human and human factors within it, you might also identify the apartment or house in which you reside to be your microhabitat.
Similarly, in nature, a particular organism’s habitat could be a pond, including all of it’s plant and animal species living within it, as well as the non-living aspects of the pond, such as the type of soil and water found therein. This organism’s microhabitat, then, could include the plant structure in which it lives, or the parasites that inhabit its body. While this fluid definition seemingly allows for a high degree of flexibility, it also requires an equally high level of precision and detail – so make sure to correctly and effectively detail habitats and microhabitats.
Many high-schoolers and undergraduates rarely think of job prospects until they’ve already chosen their area of study, or even graduated. However, it is important to remember that even for seasoned professionals, the importance of identifying the specialization you’d like to take part in or what areas of study interest you are an integral part of deciding what field you will end up in within the biological sciences.
The good news is that zoologist jobs are diverse and plentiful. While there aren’t many jobs that require a specific degree in biology, this is an excellent opportunity to combine your interdisciplinary interests. This means that the salary of zoologists also depends on what type of field you will study – where zoologists normally average at about £50,000 annually, natural science managers can earn up to £90,000 per year. Here are some example of the areas you can study if you’d like to take part in everything from park maintenance to conservation efforts:
- Wildlife biologist
- Cellular biology
- Conservation biology
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