Animals are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the biological kingdom Animalia. 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.

This page was last edited on 18 March 2018, at 08:26.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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