For other uses, see Animal (disambiguation).
"Animalia" redirects here. For other uses, see Animalia (disambiguation).
Animals are multicellulareukaryotic organisms that form the biological kingdomAnimalia. With few exceptions, animals consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, reproduce sexually, and grow from a hollow sphere of cells, the blastula, during embryonic development. Over 1.5 million living animal species have been described—of which around 1 million are insects—but it has been estimated there are over 7 million in total. Animals range in size from 8.5 millionths of a metre to 33.6 metres (110 ft) long and have complex interactions with each other and their environments, forming intricate food webs. The study of animals is called zoology.
Aristotle divided animals into those with blood and those without. Carl Linnaeus created the first hierarchical biological classification for animals in 1758 with his Systema Naturae, which Jean-Baptiste Lamarck expanded into 14 phyla by 1809. In the late-1800s, Ernst Haeckel divided the animal kingdom into the multicellular Metazoa (now synonymous with Animalia) and the Protozoa, single-celled organisms no longer considered animals. In modern times, the biological classification of animals relies on advanced techniques, such as molecular phylogenetics, which are effective at demonstrating the evolutionary relationships between animal taxa.
Most living animal species are classified in the Bilateria, a clade whose members have a bilaterally symmetric body plan. The Bilateria include the protostomes—in which many groups of invertebrates are found, such as nematodes, arthropods, and molluscs—and the deuterostomes, to which echinoderms and chordates (including the vertebrates) belong. Life forms interpreted as early animals were present in the Ediacaran biota of the late Precambrian. Most modern animal phyla became clearly established in the fossil record as marine species during the Cambrian explosion around 542 million years ago.
Humans make use of many other animal species for food, including meat, milk, and eggs; for materials, such as leather and wool; as pets; and as working animals for power and transport. Dogs have been used in hunting, while many terrestrial and aquatic animals are hunted for sport. Animals have appeared in art from the earliest times and are featured in mythology and religion.
The word "animal" comes from the Latin animalis, meaning having breath, having soul or living being. The biological definition of the word refers to all members of the kingdom Animalia, whereas in colloquial use, animal often refers to non-human animals. Sometimes the word may refer to only other vertebrates, or just mammals.
Animals have several characteristics that set them apart from other living things. Animals are eukaryotic and multicellular, unlike bacteria, which are prokaryotic, and unlike protists, which are eukaryotic but unicellular. Unlike plants and algae, which produce their own nutrients animals are heterotrophic, feeding on organic material and digesting it internally. With very few exceptions, animals breathe oxygen and respire aerobically. All animals are motile (able to spontaneously move their bodies) during at least part of their life cycle, but some animals, such as sponges, corals, mussels, and barnacles, later become sessile. The blastula is a stage in embryonic development that is unique to most animals, allowing cells to be differentiated into specialised tissues and organs.
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 (as in flatworms) or two openings (as in deuterostomes).
Reproduction and development
See also: Sexual reproduction § Animals, and Asexual reproduction § Examples in animals
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.
Repeated instances of mating with a close relative during sexual reproduction generally leads to inbreeding depression within a population due to the increased prevalence of harmful recessive traits. Animals have evolved numerous mechanisms for avoiding close inbreeding. In some species, such as the splendid fairywren, females benefit by mating with multiple males, thus producing more offspring of higher genetic quality.
Some animals are capable of asexual reproduction, which often results in a genetic clone of the parent. This may take place through fragmentation; budding, such as in Hydra and other cnidarians; or parthenogenesis, where fertile eggs are produced without mating, such as in aphids.
Animals are categorised into ecological groups depending on how they obtain or consume organic material, including carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, detritivores, and parasites. Interactions between animals form complex food webs. In carnivorous or omnivorous species, predation is a consumer-resource interaction where a predator feeds on another organism (called its prey). Selective pressures imposed on one another lead to an evolutionary arms race between predator and prey, resulting in various anti-predator adaptations. Almost all multicellular predators are animals. Some consumers use multiple methods; for example, in parasitoid wasps, the larvae feed on the hosts' living tissues, killing them in the process, but the adults primarily consume nectar from flowers. Other animals may have very specific feeding behaviours, such as hawksbill sea turtles that primarily eat sponges.
Most animals rely on the energy produced by plants through photosynthesis. Herbivores eat plant material directly, while carnivores, and other animals on higher trophic levels, typically acquire energy (in the form of reduced carbon) by eating other animals. The carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and other biomolecules are broken down to allow the animal to grow and to sustain biological processes such as locomotion. Animals living close to hydrothermal vents and cold seeps on the dark sea floor do not depend on the energy of sunlight. Rather, archaea and bacteria in these locations produce organic matter through chemosynthesis (by oxidizing inorganic compounds, such as methane) and form the base of the local food web.
Animals originally evolved in the sea. Lineages of arthropods colonised land around the same time as land plants, probably between 510–471 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 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.
Largest and smallest
Further information: Largest organisms and Smallest organisms
The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest animal that has ever lived, weighing up to 190 metric 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. 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
The following table lists estimated numbers of described extant species for the animal groups with the largest numbers of species, 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.
Total number of described species as of 2013: 1,525,728
Further information: Urmetazoan
The first fossils that might represent animals appear in the 665-million-year-old rocks of the Trezona Formation of South Australia. These fossils are interpreted as being early sponges.
The next oldest fossils that could be animals are found in the Ediacaran biota, towards the end of the Precambrian, around 610 million years ago. These are difficult to relate to later fossils. Some may represent precursors of modern phyla, but they may be separate groups, and it is possible they are not animals at all.
Most known animal phyla first appear in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion, starting about 542 million years ago, in beds such as the Burgess shale. Extant phyla in these rocks include molluscs, brachiopods, onychophorans, tardigrades, arthropods, echinoderms and hemichordates, along with numerous now-extinct forms. The apparent suddenness of the event may however be an artefact of the fossil record, rather than showing that all these animals appeared simultaneously.
Some palaeontologists have suggested that animals appeared much earlier than the Cambrian explosion, possibly as early as 1 billion years ago.Trace fossils such as tracks and burrows found in the Tonian period 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, another line of evidence may indicate the appearance of grazing animals: the layered mats of microorganisms called stromatolites decreased in diversity, perhaps due to grazing.
Further information: Lists of animals
Animals are monophyletic, meaning they are derived from a common ancestor and form a single clade within the Apoikozoa. The Choanoflagellata are their sister clade. The most basal animals, the Porifera, Ctenophora, Cnidaria, and Placozoa, have body plans that lack bilateral symmetry, but their relationships are still disputed. As of 2017, the Porifera are considered the basalmost animals. An alternative to the Porifera could be the Ctenophora, which like the Porifera lack hox genes, important in body plan development. These genes are found in the Placozoa and the higher animals, the Bilateria.
The phylogenetic tree (of major lineages only) indicates approximately how many millions of years ago (mya) the lineages split.
Several animal phyla lack bilateral symmetry. Among these, the sponges (Porifera) probably diverged first, representing the oldest animal phylum. Sponges lack the complex organization found in most other animal phyla; their cells are differentiated, but in most cases not organised into distinct tissues. They typically feed by drawing in water through pores.
The Ctenophora (comb jellies) and Cnidaria (which includes jellyfish, sea anemones, and corals) 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 organs. They are diploblastic, having only two main germ layers, ectoderm and endoderm. The tiny placozoans are similar, but they do not have a permanent digestive chamber.
Main articles: Bilateria and Symmetry (biology) § Bilateral symmetry
The remaining animals, the great majority – comprising some 29 phyla and over a million species – form a clade, the Bilateria. The body is 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. Animals with this bilaterally symmetric body plan have a head end (anterior) and a tail end (posterior) as well as a back (dorsal) and a belly (ventral); therefore they also have a left side 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, there are exceptions to 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