Keeping Precious Creatures Organized For Grumpy Scientists
In March 2023, Bat Conservation International announced that there are 1462 species of bat in the world. This number is exciting! Let’s talk about scientific species classification.
As painful as it might be, recall high school biology. Do you remember the mnemonic device “Dumb kids prefer candy over fancy green salad” or “King Philip came over from great Spain”? Do you remember what it means?
Dividing organisms into animals and plants has been done since Ancient Greece, most notably by Artistoles. His goal was to organize all creatures on the Natural Ladder, which places God above all else, and humans above animals and plants. This system lasted through the medieval period. Once the Renaissance hit, scientific classification became much more scientific.
In the modern science world, all things are classified by the taxonomic system designed by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus, cleverly called Linnaean taxonomy. This system was originally divided into 7 sections: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. In 1977, another scientist named Carl Woese introduced domain to go above kingdom. The system had gone through countless changes throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Even now, the system is continually adapting to new discoveries.
Let’s talk about bat classification within the Linnaean taxonomy.
Domain is the highest level and is broken down into three sections based on ribosomal RNA. The three sections are Archae, Bacteria, and Eukarya. Animals, plants, and fungi are eukaryotes. This means the organelles, or parts of the cell, are attached to the membrane of the cell. As an animal, bats are eukaryotes. This is as complicated as this article gets.
Kingdoms include Animalia, animals, Plantae, plants, and Fungi, fungus. Clearly, kingdom classification covers a lot of ground. Animals include organisms that consume organic material, breathe oxygen, and reproduce sexually. A fish is not the same as an ant, but for those reasons, science recognizes them both as animals. Bats, obviously, belong to the kingdom Animalia.
Phylums are the next level. There are 40 phyla within the animal kingdom that includes over a million taxa. Most important for us today is the Chordata phylum. Organisms in Chordata are known to have a spine or spine-like structure. Bats belong to the phylum Chordata and the subphylum vertebrata.
Class comes next. Class ranking can be highly subjective from scientist to scientist. This is also where we begin to see science divide the taxonomic system even more. Within the class rank, there are superclasses, subclasses, infraclasses, and more. Bats belong to the class Mammalia. They are mammals, just like platypuses, whales, and aardvarks. Bats make up about 20% of all mammals on Earth.
The next rank is Order. Just like class, there can be superorders and suborders. Bats belong to the order Chiroptera. This is the second largest order of mammals, after Rodentia. Rodentia includes animals like hamsters, mice, rats, and the largest rodent in the world, the capybara. Prior to their classification in their own order, bats were classified by Linnaeus as primates.
There are two suborders of Chiroptera: Yinpterochiroptera and Yangochiroptera. Yinpterochiroptera include megabats and certain families of microbats. Yangochiroptera include most families of microbats. These suborders have gone through many name changes, with these two long, unpronounceable names being some of the most recently accepted. Yinpterochiroptera and Yangochiroptera were reclassified by molecular genetics.
Family is the next rank in the taxonomic system. Like orders and classes, there are superfamilies and subfamilies. In science, families need to be accepted by all taxonomists. Consensus in the community can take ages and involves lots of publishing scientific papers. There are 4 families of bats that live in the United States. All the exotic fruit bats at Lubee belong to the Pteropodidae family.
Genus and species are what most people are most familiar with. The last two levels of the taxonomic system is what makes up an animal’s scientific name. There can be many animals that belong to a genus, but each type of animal is its own species. Lubee is home to 10 species of bats, most of which belong to the genus Pteropus. At Lubee, the keepers often refer to the bats by their genus name, like Rousettus for Rousettus aegyptiacus, Egyptian fruit bats, and Eidolon for Eidolon helvum, African straw-colored bats.
Chiroptera is an incredibly diverse order of mammals. Like we said at the top, there are currently 1462 species of bats in the world. This number is constantly changing as new species are discovered or old species are reclassified. Even fossils can change these numbers, as fossil discoveries can be new species or change classification as we know it. Check out the Lubee Our Animals page to learn more about each species we have here!