Why are humans a animal?

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Human evolution was a topic of conversation at the dinner table. My 9-year-old declared that “humans used to be monkeys a long, long time ago”; my 4-year-old worried that she might have monkey children when she grows up.

I explained, as in my answer to Why do monkeys still exist?, that humans have evolved over millions of years, and that monkeys and apes and all other creatures have evolved over millions of years too. I showed her a book called The Story of Life and said that, like other animals, humans have evolved over a long, long time.

She didn’t like the thought of being an animal, so we had a think about what being an animal means…

Scientists have a way of sorting and labelling all the living things on Earth. The system is called taxonomy and it puts living things into groups according to how they behave, how they look and how they are made.

The biggest groups are ‘kingdoms’. There are five kingdoms and every living thing can be put into just one of these groups:

  • animals – all animals that are made up of lots of cells
  • plants – all green plants
  • fungi – mushrooms, moulds and yeasts
  • protists – teeny-tiny creatures made up of only one cell, like algae
  • prokaryotes – bacteria

The animal kingdom is the group for creatures that eat food, breathe oxygen, can move themselves about from one place to another, and can make babies. These are all things that humans can do, so this is the group that we fit into.

Like all living creatures, humans have a special scientific name: Homo sapiens (which means ‘wise man’).

You can find out more about the scientific naming of living things in my answer to How do animals get their names?.

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