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The word "animal" comes from the Latin animalis, meaning 'having breath', 'having soul' or 'living being'. The biological definition includes all members of the kingdom Animalia. In colloquial usage, the term animal is often used to refer only to nonhuman animals. The term "metazoa" is derived from the Ancient Greek μετα (meta, meaning "later") and ζῷᾰ (zōia, plural of ζῷον zōion, meaning animal).
Animals are unique in having the ball of cells of the early embryo (1) develop into a hollow ball or blastula (2).
All animals are composed of cells, surrounded by a characteristic extracellular matrix composed of collagen and elastic glycoproteins. During development, the animal extracellular matrix forms a relatively flexible framework upon which cells can move about and be reorganised, making the formation of complex structures possible. This may be calcified, forming structures such as shells, bones, and spicules. In contrast, the cells of other multicellular organisms (primarily algae, plants, and fungi) are held in place by cell walls, and so develop by progressive growth. Animal cells uniquely possess the cell junctions called tight junctions, gap junctions, and desmosomes.
With few exceptions—in particular, the sponges and placozoans—animal bodies are differentiated into tissues. These include muscles, which enable locomotion, and nerve tissues, which transmit signals and coordinate the body. Typically, there is also an internal digestive chamber with either one opening (in Ctenophora, Cnidaria, and flatworms) or two openings (in most bilaterians).
Nearly all animals make use of some form of sexual reproduction. They produce haploidgametes by meiosis; the smaller, motile gametes are spermatozoa and the larger, non-motile gametes are ova. These fuse to form zygotes, which develop via mitosis into a hollow sphere, called a blastula. In sponges, blastula larvae swim to a new location, attach to the seabed, and develop into a new sponge. In most other groups, the blastula undergoes more complicated rearrangement. It first invaginates to form a gastrula with a digestive chamber and two separate germ layers, an external ectoderm and an internal endoderm. In most cases, a third germ layer, the mesoderm, also develops between them. These germ layers then differentiate to form tissues and organs.
Animals originally evolved in the sea. Lineages of arthropods colonised land around the same time as land plants, probably between 510 and 471 million years ago during the Late Cambrian or Early Ordovician.Vertebrates such as the lobe-finned fishTiktaalik started to move on to land in the late Devonian, about 375 million years ago. Animals occupy virtually all of earth's habitats and microhabitats, including salt water, hydrothermal vents, fresh water, hot springs, swamps, forests, pastures, deserts, air, and the interiors of other animals, plants, fungi, and rocks. Animals are however not particularly heat tolerant; very few of them can survive at constant temperatures above 50 °C (122 °F). Only very few species of animals (mostly nematodes) inhabit the most extreme cold deserts of continental Antarctica.
The blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived.
The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest animal that has ever lived, weighing up to 190 tonnes and measuring up to 33.6 metres (110 ft) long. The largest extant terrestrial animal is the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana), weighing up to 12.25 tonnes and measuring up to 10.67 metres (35.0 ft) long. The largest terrestrial animals that ever lived were titanosaursauropod dinosaurs such as Argentinosaurus, which may have weighed as much as 73 tonnes, and Supersaurus which may have reached 39 meters. Several animals are microscopic; some Myxozoa (obligate parasites within the Cnidaria) never grow larger than 20 µm, and one of the smallest species (Myxobolus shekel) is no more than 8.5 µm when fully grown.
Numbers and habitats of major phyla
The following table lists estimated numbers of described extant species for the major animal phyla, along with their principal habitats (terrestrial, fresh water, and marine), and free-living or parasitic ways of life. Species estimates shown here are based on numbers described scientifically; much larger estimates have been calculated based on various means of prediction, and these can vary wildly. For instance, around 25,000–27,000 species of nematodes have been described, while published estimates of the total number of nematode species include 10,000–20,000; 500,000; 10 million; and 100 million. Using patterns within the taxonomic hierarchy, the total number of animal species—including those not yet described—was calculated to be about 7.77 million in 2011.
Animals are found as long ago as the Ediacaran biota, towards the end of the Precambrian, and possibly somewhat earlier. It had long been doubted whether these life-forms included animals, but the discovery of the animal lipid cholesterol in fossils of Dickinsonia establishes their nature. Animals are thought to have originated under low-oxygen conditions, suggesting that they were capable of living entirely by anaerobic respiration, but as they became specialized for aerobic metabolism they became fully dependent on oxygen in their environments.
Some palaeontologists have suggested that animals appeared much earlier than the Cambrian explosion, possibly as early as 1 billion years ago. Early fossils that might represent animals appear for example in the 665-million-year-old rocks of the Trezona Formation of South Australia. These fossils are interpreted as most probably being early sponges.Trace fossils such as tracks and burrows found in the Tonian period (from 1 gya) may indicate the presence of triploblastic worm-like animals, roughly as large (about 5 mm wide) and complex as earthworms. However, similar tracks are produced today by the giant single-celled protist Gromia sphaerica, so the Tonian trace fossils may not indicate early animal evolution. Around the same time, the layered mats of microorganisms called stromatolites decreased in diversity, perhaps due to grazing by newly evolved animals. Objects such as sediment-filled tubes that resemble trace fossils of the burrows of wormlike animals have been found in 1.2 gya rocks in North America, in 1.5 gya rocks in Australia and North America, and in 1.7 gya rocks in Australia. Their interpretation as having an animal origin is disputed, as they might be water-escape or other structures.
Ros-Rocher and colleagues (2021) trace the origins of animals to unicellular ancestors, providing the external phylogeny shown in the cladogram. Uncertainty of relationships is indicated with dashed lines.
These genes are found in the Placozoa and the higher animals, the Bilateria. 6,331 groups of genes common to all living animals have been identified; these may have arisen from a single common ancestor that lived 650 million years ago in the Precambrian. 25 of these are novel core gene groups, found only in animals; of those, 8 are for essential components of the Wnt and TGF-beta signalling pathways which may have enabled animals to become multicellular by providing a pattern for the body's system of axes (in three dimensions), and another 7 are for transcription factors including homeodomain proteins involved in the control of development.
Giribet and Edgecombe (2020) provide what they consider to be a consensus internal phylogeny of the animals, embodying uncertainty about the structure at the base of the tree (dashed lines).
An alternative phylogeny, from Kapli and colleagues (2021), proposes a clade Xenambulacraria for the Xenacoelamorpha + Ambulacraria; this is either within Deuterostomia, as sister to Chordata, or the Deuterostomia are recovered as paraphyletic, and Xenambulacraria is sister to the proposed clade Centroneuralia, consisting of Chordata + Protostomia.
Non-bilaterians include sponges (centre) and corals (background).
Sponges are physically very distinct from other animals, and were long thought to have diverged first, representing the oldest animal phylum and forming a sister clade to all other animals. Despite their morphological dissimilarity with all other animals, genetic evidence suggests sponges may be more closely related to other animals than the comb jellies are. Sponges lack the complex organization found in most other animal phyla; their cells are differentiated, but in most cases not organised into distinct tissues, unlike all other animals. They typically feed by drawing in water through pores, filtering out food and nutrients.
The comb jellies and Cnidaria are radially symmetric and have digestive chambers with a single opening, which serves as both mouth and anus. Animals in both phyla have distinct tissues, but these are not organised into discrete organs. They are diploblastic, having only two main germ layers, ectoderm and endoderm.
The tiny placozoans have no permanent digestive chamber and no symmetry; they superficially resemble amoebae. Their phylogeny is poorly defined, and under active research.
Idealised bilaterian body plan. With an elongated body and a direction of movement the animal has head and tail ends. Sense organs and mouth form the basis of the head. Opposed circular and longitudinal muscles enable peristaltic motion.
The remaining animals, the great majority—comprising some 29 phyla and over a million species—form a clade, the Bilateria, which have a bilaterally symmetric body plan. The Bilateria are triploblastic, with three well-developed germ layers, and their tissues form distinct organs. The digestive chamber has two openings, a mouth and an anus, and there is an internal body cavity, a coelom or pseudocoelom. These animals have a head end (anterior) and a tail end (posterior), a back (dorsal) surface and a belly (ventral) surface, and a left and a right side.
Having a front end means that this part of the body encounters stimuli, such as food, favouring cephalisation, the development of a head with sense organs and a mouth. Many bilaterians have a combination of circular muscles that constrict the body, making it longer, and an opposing set of longitudinal muscles, that shorten the body; these enable soft-bodied animals with a hydrostatic skeleton to move by peristalsis. They also have a gut that extends through the basically cylindrical body from mouth to anus. Many bilaterian phyla have primary larvae which swim with cilia and have an apical organ containing sensory cells. However, over evolutionary time, descendant spaces have evolved which have lost one or more of each of these characteristics. For example, adult echinoderms are radially symmetric (unlike their larvae), while some parasitic worms have extremely simplified body structures.
Genetic studies have considerably changed zoologists' understanding of the relationships within the Bilateria. Most appear to belong to two major lineages, the protostomes and the deuterostomes. It is often suggested that the basalmost bilaterians are the Xenacoelomorpha, with all other bilaterians belonging to the subclade Nephrozoa However, this suggestion has been contested, with other studies finding that xenacoelomorphs are more closely related to Ambulacraria than to other bilaterians.
The bilaterian gut develops in two ways. In many protostomes, the blastopore develops into the mouth, while in deuterostomes it becomes the anus.
Protostomes and deuterostomes differ in several ways. Early in development, deuterostome embryos undergo radial cleavage during cell division, while many protostomes (the Spiralia) undergo spiral cleavage.
Animals from both groups possess a complete digestive tract, but in protostomes the first opening of the embryonic gut develops into the mouth, and the anus forms secondarily. In deuterostomes, the anus forms first while the mouth develops secondarily. Most protostomes have schizocoelous development, where cells simply fill in the interior of the gastrula to form the mesoderm. In deuterostomes, the mesoderm forms by enterocoelic pouching, through invagination of the endoderm.
The Ecdysozoa are protostomes, named after their shared trait of ecdysis, growth by moulting. They include the largest animal phylum, the Arthropoda, which contains insects, spiders, crabs, and their kin. All of these have a body divided into repeating segments, typically with paired appendages. Two smaller phyla, the Onychophora and Tardigrada, are close relatives of the arthropods and share these traits. The ecdysozoans also include the Nematoda or roundworms, perhaps the second largest animal phylum. Roundworms are typically microscopic, and occur in nearly every environment where there is water; some are important parasites. Smaller phyla related to them are the Nematomorpha or horsehair worms, and the Kinorhyncha, Priapulida, and Loricifera. These groups have a reduced coelom, called a pseudocoelom.
The Spiralia are a large group of protostomes that develop by spiral cleavage in the early embryo. The Spiralia's phylogeny has been disputed, but it contains a large clade, the superphylum Lophotrochozoa, and smaller groups of phyla such as the Rouphozoa which includes the gastrotrichs and the flatworms. All of these are grouped as the Platytrochozoa, which has a sister group, the Gnathifera, which includes the rotifers.
Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck led the creation of a modern classification of invertebrates, breaking up Linnaeus's "Vermes" into 9 phyla by 1809.
In the classical era, Aristotle divided animals, based on his own observations, into those with blood (roughly, the vertebrates) and those without. The animals were then arranged on a scale from man (with blood, 2 legs, rational soul) down through the live-bearing tetrapods (with blood, 4 legs, sensitive soul) and other groups such as crustaceans (no blood, many legs, sensitive soul) down to spontaneously generating creatures like sponges (no blood, no legs, vegetable soul). Aristotle was uncertain whether sponges were animals, which in his system ought to have sensation, appetite, and locomotion, or plants, which did not: he knew that sponges could sense touch, and would contract if about to be pulled off their rocks, but that they were rooted like plants and never moved about.
In 1758, Carl Linnaeus created the first hierarchical classification in his Systema Naturae. In his 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, while his Insecta (which included the crustaceans and arachnids) and Vermes have been renamed or broken up. The process was begun in 1793 by Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, who called the Vermes une espèce de chaos (a chaotic mess) and split the group into three new phyla: worms, echinoderms, and polyps (which contained corals and jellyfish). By 1809, in his Philosophie Zoologique, Lamarck had created 9 phyla apart from vertebrates (where he still had 4 phyla: mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish) and molluscs, namely cirripedes, annelids, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, worms, radiates, polyps, and infusorians.
In 1874, Ernst Haeckel divided the animal kingdom into two subkingdoms: Metazoa (multicellular animals, with five phyla: coelenterates, echinoderms, articulates, molluscs, and vertebrates) and Protozoa (single-celled animals), including a sixth animal phylum, sponges. The protozoa were later moved to the former kingdom Protista, leaving only the Metazoa as a synonym of Animalia.
The human population exploits a large number of other animal species for food, both of domesticatedlivestock species in animal husbandry and, mainly at sea, by hunting wild species. Marine fish of many species are caught commercially for food. A smaller number of species are farmed commercially. Humans and their livestock make up more than 90% of the biomass of all terrestrial vertebrates, and almost as much as all insects combined.
Invertebrates including cephalopods, crustaceans, and bivalve or gastropod molluscs are hunted or farmed for food.Chickens, cattle, sheep, pigs, and other animals are raised as livestock for meat across the world. Animal fibres such as wool are used to make textiles, while animal sinews have been used as lashings and bindings, and leather is widely used to make shoes and other items. Animals have been hunted and farmed for their fur to make items such as coats and hats. Dyestuffs including carmine (cochineal),shellac, and kermes have been made from the bodies of insects. Working animals including cattle and horses have been used for work and transport from the first days of agriculture.
^The application of DNA barcoding to taxonomy further complicates this; a 2016 barcoding analysis estimated a total count of nearly 100,000 insect species for Canada alone, and extrapolated that the global insect fauna must be in excess of 10 million species, of which nearly 2 million are in a single fly family known as gall midges (Cecidomyiidae).
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^Maloof, A. C.; Porter, S. M.; Moore, J. L.; Dudas, F. O.; Bowring, S. A.; Higgins, J. A.; Fike, D. A.; Eddy, M. P. (2010). "The earliest Cambrian record of animals and ocean geochemical change". Geological Society of America Bulletin. 122 (11–12): 1731–1774. Bibcode:2010GSAB..122.1731M. doi:10.1130/B30346.1. S2CID6694681.
^Campbell, Neil A.; Reece, Jane B. (2005). Biology (7th ed.). Pearson, Benjamin Cummings. p. 526. ISBN978-0-8053-7171-0.
^Maloof, Adam C.; Rose, Catherine V.; Beach, Robert; Samuels, Bradley M.; Calmet, Claire C.; Erwin, Douglas H.; Poirier, Gerald R.; Yao, Nan; Simons, Frederik J. (17 August 2010). "Possible animal-body fossils in pre-Marinoan limestones from South Australia". Nature Geoscience. 3 (9): 653–659. Bibcode:2010NatGe...3..653M. doi:10.1038/ngeo934.
^Peters, Kenneth E.; Walters, Clifford C.; Moldowan, J. Michael (2005). The Biomarker Guide: Biomarkers and isotopes in petroleum systems and Earth history. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 717. ISBN978-0-521-83762-0.
^Pearnchob, N.; Siepmann, J.; Bodmeier, R. (2003). "Pharmaceutical applications of shellac: moisture-protective and taste-masking coatings and extended-release matrix tablets". Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy. 29 (8): 925–938. doi:10.1081/ddc-120024188. PMID14570313. S2CID13150932.
^Barber, E. J. W. (1991). Prehistoric Textiles. Princeton University Press. pp. 230–231. ISBN978-0-691-00224-8.
^Munro, John H. (2003). Jenkins, David (ed.). Medieval Woollens: Textiles, Technology, and Organisation. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles. Cambridge University Press. pp. 214–215. ISBN978-0-521-34107-3.