By Erika, age 13

Have you ever been to a museum and seen a particular display that you like? Perhaps you wanted to know what it was, and looked at the plaque, only to see something unexpected? Maybe you saw a fiery orange coyote-looking creature called Vulpes vulpes, or a big cat called Panthera pardus. If these names confused you, you’re in the right place, because today’s topic is Aristotle, Linnaeus, and binomial nomenclature!

Taxonomy is the science of classifying organisms, and more than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle created his own system. He started by classifying organisms as either in the plant kingdom or in the animal kingdom. He then split up the animals based on where they lived: on land, in the sea, or if they flew. He divided the plants based on their size and structure. Later on, scientists found too many problems with this system. For example, frogs were animals, but they lived in water and on land, and there was no classification for that.

Binomial-nomenclature-birds-300x196This problem leads us to Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist and physician. In 1753, Linnaeus created an improved classification system called binomial nomenclature, where organisms are classified based on body structures and systems, size, shape, color, and methods of getting food. Organisms are divided into Kingdoms, Phylums, Classes, Orders, Families, Genuses, and Species. Binomial nomenclature uses Latin names, and is written using the “formula” Genus species. Scientists prefer to use Linnaeus’s system to avoid confusion with common names. For example, there are three different birds which all have the common name robin, but are all in entirely different Genuses (Turdus migratorius, Erithacus rubecula, and Eopsaltria australis).

Carolus Linnaeus developed and improved taxonomy after Aristotle. We’re still using his system today! If you ever want to study a field of science involving living and nonliving organisms, make sure you have an understanding of taxonomy.