Zoology

A Short History of Zoology



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Zoology, the study of animals (all organisms), has been around since ancient man mimicked animals’ actions and became meat eaters. Ancient humans mimicked animal sounds which was the beginning of human vocal communication. Ancient human mothers watched monkeys chew up food and then transfer it to their babies through kissing. Many other animal actions were mimicked by ancient man. Tracing the history of the animal kingdom from ancient times to modern time defines the history of zoology. The turning point of zoology began approximately 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic Revolution when humans domesticated livestock animals.

In ancient India, texts described some aspects of bird life. The metamorphosis of insects and frogs was described in ancient Egypt. The first zoological gardens were in ancient Mesopotamia. Aristotle, the Greek scientist and philosopher began categorizing animals, describing many animals and their behaviors. Two ancient Romans, Pliny the Elder and Claudius Galen were known for their knowledge of nature and pioneering in medicine and anatomy.

During the Medieval Period (5th century-16th century) the knowledge of Aristotle was translated and utilized. Albertus Magnus wrote 26 books about animals where he discussed animal reproduction. During the Renaissance (mid-1300s to early 16th century) artists Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci created very accurate drawings of animals. In the 17th century Louis XIV established the Academy of Sciences of Paris. This brought museum curators and anatomists together. Carroll Linnaeus (1707-1778) developed a classification for animals. The invention of the microscope by Robert Hooke in the late 16th century and the improvements of the microscope by Antony van Leeuwenhoek in the 1670’s opened a new world into organisms not visible to the naked eye such as spermatozoa, bacteria, infusoria and other microscopic organisms.

Charles Darwin, published “The Origins of Species” in 1859, a controversial theory of the evolution of man and other animals based on natural selection, or survival of the fittest. This questioned the creation of man as written in Genesis. Did a fish with legs crawl out of the ocean and evolve into man? The great debate has been ongoing ever since Darwin published his book.

In the 20th century, scientists discovered the human and many other animals’ genomes in The Human Genome Project. A genome contains the mapping of DNA information with genetic markers. Human’s closest animal relative is the chimpanzee as our genomes are nearly 98% identical. This is one of the most recent and important studies of zoology.

There are many sub-specialties of zoology including paleontology, zoogeography (the study of the distribution of animals), ethology (the study of animal behaviors), ecology, taxonomy (the classification of animals), mammology (the study of mammals), invertebrate zoology (the study of animals without spines), herpetology (the study of snakes, other reptiles and amphibians), morphography (the study of extinct animals) and many more. It is estimated that there are 8.7 millions of species on earth today. More than 15,000 new species are reported each year by researchers and scientists. 1.3 million species have been named and cataloged. In 1988, Robert May, of the University of Oxford, observed that the diversity of land animals increases as they get smaller. He believes we have found most of the larger species such as mammals and birds. This is all highly important information that is now part of zoology.

Zoology is one of the most important and most fascinating sciences for understanding human and animal behaviors, including evolution. Zoology is an exciting science that still has far to go to find how ancient humans related with the other creatures of the animal kingdom, how humans relate to animals today and to find and categorize all the species on earth.


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