Utah's Plants and Animals - The Scheme of Things

Do It!
Okay, without making too much of a disturbance, look up and study the people that are in the same room that you are in right now. Just study those around you. After about five minutes, quietly take out a sheet of paper and make five observations about the physical features (hair or eye color, height, etc.) of five of people. This assignment is not meant as an excuse to make fun of anyone. When you have completed this part of the assignment, make five observations about yourself. Here is the question. Did any of the people that you observed have exactly the same features? Unless your subjects included identical twins, the chances are that the answer to this question is no.

There are many different types of plants, animals, and even people on this planet. We call this DIVERSITY or BIODIVERSITY. Because all animals, plants and people are diverse, scientists classify (divide) them into certain groups or categories based on how they are alike. Even though animals are diverse, they are also the same in many ways. If you look at your classmates again do you notice things that make you all alike? Because there are many things that make you the same, scientists have classified you into the same "group." You are humans and you are also mammals. We use classification systems in our everyday lives. Do you put your socks in the refrigerator? Of course not. You have a classification system in your room. At least most of you do. You put your socks in a specific place within that system.

You're the scientist!
Classification systems help us to make sense of the variety of things in our world. These systems are made by humans. They are usually based on physical similarities and chemical relationships between things.

Do it!
Try this classification activity.

  • Remove everything from your desk.
  • Sort the material that was in your desk into categories based on how they are similar or work together.
  • List the groups that you have made.
  • Explain your classification (or grouped) system. Why did you group your materials the way you did?
Try It!
You can also try this activity at your desk. In this activity you will practice grouping objects by their similarities and differences. Collect pictures of insects and cut them out.
  • Group them by their similarities and differences.
  • Give a name to each of your groups.
  • Explain your method of grouping.
  • Why did you place certain insects in the groups that you did?
  • Can some of the insects be members of more than one group? Explain.
Classify it!
Scientists have already helped us classify Earth's animals and plants into categories. I'll bet you already know some of these groups. Look at the chart below and see what you already know. Do you know where your pet iguana fits in?
Animals Characteristics Tree Characteristics
Mammals warm-blooded, fur/hair, live birth, vertebrate (with backbones,) lungs Conifers don't lose their leaves, have pine cones
Reptiles cold-blooded, vertebrate, scales Deciduous lose their leaves every year
Amphibians live on & off land, vertebrate, cold-blooded, lay eggs, gills    
Birds feathers, vertebrate, lay eggs, wings, warm-blooded    
Fish gills, vertebrate, live in water, lay eggs, cold-blooded    
Insects invertebrates (without backbones,) exoskeleton, 6 legs    

The above chart is just a small part of the system which scientists use to group the great diversity of living things in our world. Scientists have classified plants and animals into categories as you have just learned. And as you already know, they also classify parts of the world. A biome, for example, describes a zone (or land area) on Earth with a similar climate, and plant and animal life. Living in each biome are the plants and animals that can survive and thrive in that area.

Clean it!
Use the information above to classify the materials in your own bedroom. Throw the junk in the garbage and neatly organize your belongings. Think of it this way. You will be practicing "real science" and making your parents very happy at the same time. Who knows what kind of praise or award might be awaiting you for having a clean and organized room?

Backyard diversity
Find out about the biodiversity in your own backyard. After studying the information on this site, use a magnifying glass to identify and classify the abundance of life in your own backyard. Remember, you can make up your own system to group the life that you discover. Have fun, but remember, some bugs or spiders may bite!
The tree of life
Make a brochure about one group of living things. Remember there are millions of living things on Earth and not all of them are plants or animals. Be creative and find a group that is unique.
utah state board of education This Sci-ber Text was developed by the Utah State Board of Education and Utah educators.