Mammal classification

From Academic Kids

Mammalia is a class of animal within the Phylum Chordata. Mammal classification has been through several iterations since Carolus Linnaeus initially defined the class. Many earlier ideas have been completely abandoned by modern taxonomists, among these are the idea that bats are related to birds or that humans represent a completely distinct group. Competing ideas about the relationships of mammal orders do persist and are currently in development. Most significantly in recent years, cladistic thinking has led to an effort to ensure that all taxonomic designations represent monophyletic groups. The field has also seen a recent surge in interest and modification due to the results of molecular phylogenetics.

George Gaylord Simpson's classic "Principles of Classification and a Classification of Mammals" (Simpson, 1945) was the original source for the taxonomy listed here. Simpson laid out a systematics of mammal origins and relationships that was universally taught until the end of the 20th century.

Since Simpson's 1945 classification, the paleontological record has been recalibrated, and the intervening years have seen much debate and progress concerning the theoretical underpinnings of systematization itself, partly through the new concept of cladistics. Though field work gradually made Simpson's classification outdated, it remained the closest thing to an official classification of mammals.


Standardized textbook classification

A somewhat standardized classification system has been adopted by most current mammalogy classroom textbooks. The following taxonomy of extant and recently extinct mammals is taken from Vaughan et al. (2000). This approach emphasizes an initial split between egg-laying prototherians and live-bearing therians. The therians are further divided into the marsupial Metatheria and the "placental" eutheria. No attempt is made here to further distinguish among the orders within these subclasses and infraclasses. This system also makes no note of the position of entirely fossil groups.

In this and later taxonomies listed here, families are merely listed under the order to which they belong. Please see the pages associated with specific orders to see more detailed relationships among families in that order.

Subclass Prototheria

Subclass Theria

McKenna/Bell classification

In 1997, the mammals were comprehensively revised by Malcolm C. McKenna and Susan K. Bell, which has resulted in the "McKenna/Bell classification".

McKenna and Bell, Classification of Mammals: Above the species level, (McKenna & Bell, 1997) is the most comprehensive work to date on the systematics, relationships, and occurrences of all mammal taxa, living and extinct, down through the rank of genus. The new McKenna/Bell classification was quickly accepted by paleontologists. The authors work together as paleontologists at the American Museum of Natural History, New York. McKenna inherited the project from Simpson and, with Bell, constructed a completely updated hierarchical system, covering living and extinct taxa that reflects the historical genealogy of Mammalia.

The McKenna/Bell hierarchical listing of all of the terms used for mammal groups above the species includes extinct mammals as well as modern groups, and introduces some fine distinctions such as legions and sublegions (ranks which fall between classes and orders) that are likely to be glossed over by the layman.

The published re-classification forms both a comprehensive and authoritative record of approved names and classifications and a list of invalid names.

Click on the highlighted link for a table comparing the traditional and the new McKenna/Bell classifications of mammals (

Extinct groups are represented by †.

Subclass Prototheria


Sublass Theriiformes

Molecular classification of mammals

Molecular studies by a small group of molecular systematicists, based on DNA analysis, have revealed new relationships among mammal families over the last few years. The most recent classification systems based on molecular studies reveal four groups or lineages of placental mammals which diverged from early common ancestors in the Cretaceous.

The first divergence was that of the Afrotheria 110–100 million years ago (Ma). The Afrotheria proceeded to evolve and diversify in the isolation of the African-Arabian continent. The Xenarthra, isolated in South America, diverged from the Boreoeutheria approximately 100–95 mya. The Boreoeutheria split into the Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires between 95 and 85 mya; both of these groups evolved on the northern continent of Laurasia.

After tens of millions of years of relative isolation, Africa-Arabia collided with Eurasia, and the formation of the Isthmus of Panama linked South America and North America, facilitating the distribution of mammals seen today. With the exception of bats and murine rodents, no placental land mammals reached Australasia until the first human settlers arrived approximately 50,000 years ago.

It should however be noted that these molecular results are still controversial mainly because they are not reflected by morphological data and thus not accepted by many systematists. It is also important to note that fossil taxa are not and, in most cases cannot, be included. Although there are instances of DNA being recovered from prehistoric mammals such as the ground sloth Mylodon and Neanderthal humans, Homo neanderthalensis, fossils can generally only be incorporated in morphological analyses.

The following taxonomy only includes living placentals (infraclass Eutheria):

Group I: Afrotheria

Group II: Xenarthra

Clade Boreoeutheria

Mammal Taxonomy classification

Mammal Taxonomy ( is an internet database of mammals. The classification Mammal Taxonomy uses is notable in that it's apparently the first essentially molecular classification which includes fossil groups.

Classification system used in related articles

In light of all the options available, the following classification system has been adopted for use in related articles.

Subclass/Order Monotremata

Subclass Marsupialia

Subclass Placentalia

See also


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools