Class (biology)

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The hierarchy of biological classification's eight major taxonomic ranks. A Phylum contains one or more classes. Intermediate minor rankings are not shown. Biological classification L Pengo vflip.svg DomainKingdomClassOrderFamily
The hierarchy of biological classification's eight major taxonomic ranks. A Phylum contains one or more classes. Intermediate minor rankings are not shown.

In biological classification, class (Latin : classis) is a taxonomic rank, as well as a taxonomic unit, a taxon, in that rank. [lower-alpha 1] Other well-known ranks in descending order of size are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, order, family, genus, and species, with class fitting between phylum and order.



The class as a distinct rank of biological classification having its own distinctive name (and not just called a top-level genus(genus summum)) was first introduced by the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in his classification of plants that appeared in his Eléments de botanique, 1694.

Insofar as a general definition of a class is available, it has historically been conceived as embracing taxa that combine a distinct grade of organization -- i.e. a 'level of complexity', measured in terms of how differentiated their organ systems are into distinct regions or sub-organs -- with a distinct type of construction, which is to say a particular layout of organ systems. [1] This said, the composition of each class is ultimately determined by the subjective judgement of taxonomists. Often there is no exact agreement, with different taxonomists taking different positions. There are no objective rules for describing a class, but for well-known animals there is likely to be consensus.

In the first edition of his Systema Naturae (1735), [2] Carl Linnaeus divided all three of his kingdoms of Nature (minerals, plants, and animals) into classes. Only in the animal kingdom are Linnaeus's classes similar to the classes used today; his classes and orders of plants were never intended to represent natural groups, but rather to provide a convenient "artificial key" according to his Systema Sexuale , largely based on the arrangement of flowers. In botany, classes are now rarely discussed. Since the first publication of the APG system in 1998, which proposed a taxonomy of the flowering plants up to the level of orders, many sources have preferred to treat ranks higher than orders as informal clades. Where formal ranks have been assigned, the ranks have been reduced to a very much lower level, e.g. class Equisitopsida for the land plants, with the major divisions within the class assigned to subclasses and superorders. [3]

The class was considered the highest level of the taxonomic hierarchy until George Cuvier's embranchements, first called Phyla by Ernst Haeckel, [4] were introduced in the early nineteenth century.

Hierarchy of ranks below and above the level of class

As with the other principal ranks, Classes can be grouped and subdivided. Here are some examples. [lower-alpha 2]

NameMeaning of prefix Example 1Example 2Example 3 [5] Example 4
Superclass super: above Tetrapoda Tetrapoda
Class Mammalia Maxillopoda Aves Diplopoda
Subclass sub: under Theria Thecostraca Chilognatha
Infraclass infra: below Cirripedia Neognathae Helminthomorpha
Subterclass subter: below, underneath Colobognatha
Parvclass parvus: small, unimportant Neornithes

See also


  1. When the term denotes taxonomic units, the plural is classes (Latin classes).
  2. Not all ranks are used in every taxon

Related Research Articles

Linnaean taxonomy A rank based classification system for organisms

Linnaean taxonomy can mean either of two related concepts:

  1. the particular form of biological classification (taxonomy) set up by Carl Linnaeus, as set forth in his Systema Naturae (1735) and subsequent works. In the taxonomy of Linnaeus there are three kingdoms, divided into classes, and they, in turn, into orders, genera, and species, with an additional rank lower than species.
  2. a term for rank-based classification of organisms, in general. That is, taxonomy in the traditional sense of the word: rank-based scientific classification. This term is especially used as opposed to cladistic systematics, which groups organisms into clades. It is attributed to Linnaeus, although he neither invented the concept of ranked classification nor gave it its present form. In fact, it does not have an exact present form, as "Linnaean taxonomy" as such does not really exist: it is a collective (abstracting) term for what actually are several separate fields, which use similar approaches.
Liliales Order of monocot flowering plants, including lilies

Liliales is an order of monocotyledonous flowering plants in the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group and Angiosperm Phylogeny Web system, within the lilioid monocots. This order of necessity includes the family Liliaceae. The APG III system (2009) places this order in the monocot clade. In APG III, the family Luzuriagaceae is combined with the family Alstroemeriaceae and the family Petermanniaceae is recognized. Both the order Lililiales and the family Liliaceae have had a widely disputed history, with the circumscription varying greatly from one taxonomist to another. Previous members of this order, which at one stage included most monocots with conspicuous tepals and lacking starch in the endosperm are now distributed over three orders, Liliales, Dioscoreales and Asparagales, using predominantly molecular phylogenetics. The newly delimited Liliales is monophyletic, with ten families. Well known plants from the order include Lilium (lily), tulip, the North American wildflower Trillium, and greenbrier.

Taxonomy (biology) Science of naming, defining and classifying organisms

In biology, taxonomy is the scientific study of naming, defining (circumscribing) and classifying groups of biological organisms based on shared characteristics. Organisms are grouped into taxa and these groups are given a taxonomic rank; groups of a given rank can be aggregated to form a more inclusive group of higher rank, thus creating a taxonomic hierarchy. The principal ranks in modern use are domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is regarded as the founder of the current system of taxonomy, as he developed a ranked system known as Linnaean taxonomy for categorizing organisms and binominal nomenclature for naming organisms.

A genus is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, as well as viruses, in biology. In the hierarchy of biological classification, genus comes above species and below family. In binomial nomenclature, the genus name forms the first part of the binomial species name for each species within the genus.

In biology, kingdom is the second highest taxonomic rank, just below domain. Kingdoms are divided into smaller groups called phyla. Traditionally, some textbooks from the United States and Canada used a system of six kingdoms while textbooks in Great Britain, India, Greece, Brazil and other countries use five kingdoms only. Some recent classifications based on modern cladistics have explicitly abandoned the term kingdom, noting that the traditional kingdoms are not monophyletic, meaning that they do not consist of all the descendants of a common ancestor.

Family is one of the eight major hierarchical taxonomic ranks in Linnaean taxonomy; it is classified between order and genus. A family may be divided into subfamilies, which are intermediate ranks between the ranks of family and genus. The official family names are Latin in origin; however, popular names are often used: for example, walnut trees and hickory trees belong to the family Juglandaceae, but that family is commonly referred to as being the "walnut family".

Vermes ("worms") is an obsolete taxon used by Carl Linnaeus and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck for non-arthropod invertebrate animals.

In biological classification, the order is

  1. a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms and recognized by the nomenclature codes. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, and species, with order fitting in between class and family. An immediately higher rank, superorder, may be added directly above order, while suborder would be a lower rank.
  2. a taxonomic unit, a taxon, in that rank. In that case the plural is orders.
Taxon Group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms which have distinguishing characteristics in common

In biology, a taxon is a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms seen by taxonomists to form a unit. Although neither is required, a taxon is usually known by a particular name and given a particular ranking, especially if and when it is accepted or becomes established. It is very common, however, for taxonomists to remain at odds over what belongs to a taxon and the criteria used for inclusion. If a taxon is given a formal scientific name, its use is then governed by one of the nomenclature codes specifying which scientific name is correct for a particular grouping.

<i>Systema Naturae</i> Major work by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus

Systema Naturae is one of the major works of the Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) and introduced the Linnaean taxonomy. Although the system, now known as binomial nomenclature, was partially developed by the Bauhin brothers, Gaspard and Johann, 200 years earlier, Linnaeus was first to use it consistently throughout his book. The first edition was published in 1735. The full title of the 10th edition (1758), which was the most important one, was Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis or translated: "System of nature through the three kingdoms of nature, according to classes, orders, genera and species, with characters, differences, synonyms, places".

Botanical nomenclature is the formal, scientific naming of plants. It is related to, but distinct from taxonomy. Plant taxonomy is concerned with grouping and classifying plants; botanical nomenclature then provides names for the results of this process. The starting point for modern botanical nomenclature is Linnaeus' Species Plantarum of 1753. Botanical nomenclature is governed by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN), which replaces the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN). Fossil plants are also covered by the code of nomenclature.

Fibrobacteres is a small bacterial phylum which includes many of the major rumen bacteria, allowing for the degradation of plant-based cellulose in ruminant animals. Members of this phylum were categorized in other phyla. The genus Fibrobacter was removed from the genus Bacteroides in 1988.

Body plan A set of morphological features common to members of a phylum of animals

A body plan, Bauplan, or ground plan is a set of morphological features common to many members of a phylum of animals. The vertebrate body plan is one of many: invertebrates consist of many phyla.

<i>Philosophia Botanica</i>

Philosophia Botanica was published by the Swedish naturalist and physician Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) who greatly influenced the development of botanical taxonomy and systematics in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is "the first textbook of descriptive systematic botany and botanical Latin". It also contains Linnaeus's first published description of his binomial nomenclature.

Taxonomic rank Level in a taxonomic hierarchy

In biological classification, taxonomic rank is the relative level of a group of organisms in a taxonomic hierarchy. Examples of taxonomic ranks are species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, domain, etc.


Monera is a kingdom that contains unicellular organisms with a prokaryotic cell organization, such as bacteria. They are single-celled organisms with no true nuclear membrane.

Worm Animal that typically has a long tube-like body, no limbs, and no eyes

Worms are many different distantly related animals that typically have a long cylindrical tube-like body, no limbs, and no eyes. Worms vary in size from microscopic to over 1 metre (3.3 ft) in length for marine polychaete worms, 6.7 metres (22 ft) for the African giant earthworm, Microchaetus rappi, and 58 metres (190 ft) for the marine nemertean worm, Lineus longissimus. Various types of worm occupy a small variety of parasitic niches, living inside the bodies of other animals. Free-living worm species do not live on land, but instead, live in marine or freshwater environments, or underground by burrowing. In biology, "worm" refers to an obsolete taxon, vermes, used by Carolus Linnaeus and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck for all non-arthropod invertebrate animals, now seen to be paraphyletic. The name stems from the Old English word wyrm. Most animals called "worms" are invertebrates, but the term is also used for the amphibian caecilians and the slowworm Anguis, a legless burrowing lizard. Invertebrate animals commonly called "worms" include annelids, nematodes (roundworms), platyhelminthes (flatworms), marine nemertean worms, marine Chaetognatha, priapulid worms, and insect larvae such as grubs and maggots.

In biology, a phylum is a level of classification or taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class. Traditionally, in botany the term division has been used instead of phylum, although the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants accepts the terms as equivalent. Depending on definitions, the animal kingdom Animalia or Metazoa contains approximately 35 phyla; the plant kingdom Plantae contains about 14, and the fungus kingdom Fungi contains about 8 phyla. Current research in phylogenetics is uncovering the relationships between phyla, which are contained in larger clades, like Ecdysozoa and Embryophyta.

10th edition of <i>Systema Naturae</i> Book by Carl Linnaeus

The 10th edition of Systema Naturae is a book written by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus and published in two volumes in 1758 and 1759, which marks the starting point of zoological nomenclature. In it, Linnaeus introduced binomial nomenclature for animals, something he had already done for plants in his 1753 publication of Species Plantarum.

Bacterial taxonomy is the taxonomy, i.e. the rank-based classification, of bacteria.


  1. Huxley, Thomas Henry (1853). Henfrey, Arthur (ed.). Scientific memoirs, selected from the transactions of foreign academies of science, and from foreign journals. Natural history. Taylor and Francis. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.28029.
  2. Mayr E. (1982). The Growth of Biological Thought. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN   0-674-36446-5
  3. Chase, Mark W. & Reveal, James L. (2009), "A phylogenetic classification of the land plants to accompany APG III", Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 161 (2): 122–127, doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.01002.x
  4. Collins, A.G., Valentine, J.W. (2001). "Defining phyla: evolutionary pathways to metazoan body plans." Evol. Dev. 3: 432-442.
  5. Classification according to Systema Naturae 2000, which conflicts with Wikipedia's classification. "The Taxonomicon: Neornithes" . Retrieved 3 December 2010.