A DEFINITION FOR ZOOLOGY
Quite simply, zoology is the division of biology that deals with the animal kingdom. It’s the scientific study of everything having to do with animals, just as botany is the scientific study of plants. Zoology is a huge field that covers the classification of every animal on earth as well as many broader fields of experimentation and inquiry related to animal life, and the field keeps expanding due to scientific advances that continue to open new areas of research.
Defining zoology was relatively simple back in the 4th Century BC when the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, gave us some of the first broad classifications of living things. In his treatise Meteorology, Aristotle first (and logically) divided all living things into plants and animals. It could be said that as soon as he wrote those words, biology, botany and zoology were born.
Next, Aristotle divided animals into those with blood and those without–by which he actually meant animals without red blood, such as insects and crustaceans. He then further divided creatures into those that walked, those that flew, and those that swam.
Aristotle’s classifications stayed in use until the 16th Century, when scientists during the Age of Enlightenment finally began taking a closer look at things. Today zoology–in fact, all of biology–has become much more complex, with living thing divided into five Kingdoms, of which animals (animalia) are just one, and the Kingdoms themselves divided into the ever-smaller categories of Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and, finally, Species. In fact, animal species are now so finely divided from one another based on their physical and genetic characteristics that we recognize millions of species and subspecies of different creatures.
Twenty-first Century zoologists can specialize in one of a variety of much narrower sciences including such fields as Arachnology (the study of spiders), Cetology (whales and dolphins), Ichthyology (fish), Herpetology (snakes) Ornithology (birds) and even Paleozoology (the study of extinct animals).
But earlier we mentioned that in a definition for zoology, classification was only part–though a big part–of the picture. In fact, the International Society of Zoological Sciences recognizes Taxonomy (aka classification) as one of only 17 branches in their definition of zoology. The others are Anatomy and Morphology, Animal Nutriology, Biochemistry, Biodiversity and Conservation, Biophysics, Developmental Biology, Ecology, Etiology, Evolution, Genetics, Molecular and Cell Biology, Paleontology, Physiology, Reproductive Biology and Zoogeography. —Paul Guernsey