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Mammals (Mammalia) – General characters and Classification up to Order

Mammals (Mammalia)

  • Mammals are characterized by several advanced features that distinguish them from other animals. One of the defining characteristics of mammals is the presence of mammary glands, which produce milk for nourishing their young. This unique trait allows mammals to provide care and nutrition to their offspring.
  • Mammals have successfully adapted to diverse habitats worldwide. They can be found in various ecosystems, ranging from oceans and deserts to polar regions, rainforests, and rivers. This adaptability is a testament to their evolutionary success.
  • Within the class Mammalia, there are approximately 6,000 living species. They exhibit a wide range of behaviors, physical characteristics, and ecological roles. Mammals have evolved to be highly suited for life on land, distinguishing them from other vertebrates.
  • Mammals possess remarkable DNA information that equips them with numerous adaptive features. This genetic diversity contributes to their ability to thrive in different environments. Mammals are adept at regulating their internal conditions to maintain homeostasis, ensuring the stability of their internal environment even in challenging circumstances.
  • Temperature regulation is a crucial aspect of mammalian biology. They are warm-blooded animals, capable of maintaining a constant body temperature through internal mechanisms. This thermoregulation allows mammals to survive in a wide range of climates and habitats.
  • In addition to temperature regulation, mammals exhibit precise control over various components of their blood. The composition of their blood remains within narrow limits, demonstrating their exceptional ability to maintain physiological balance. This intricate regulation contributes to the overall success and adaptability of mammals.
  • Mammals are characterized by their high level of perception and mobility. They possess relatively large brains, enabling complex cognitive abilities. The structure of their inner ear includes a spiral cochlea, which is involved in hearing and auditory perception.
  • The skin of mammals is usually covered with hair, providing insulation and protection from the environment. This hair is typically waterproof, further aiding in maintaining the body’s internal conditions. However, some mammals, such as whales and dolphins, have evolved adaptations where hair is reduced or absent.
  • Mammals give birth to live young, a reproductive strategy known as viviparity. The offspring are nourished by milk produced by the mother’s mammary glands. This unique form of parental care and nutrition is a key characteristic of mammals.
  • In summary, mammals are a diverse and highly evolved group of animals within the class Mammalia. Their advanced characteristics, including mammary glands, temperature regulation, and cognitive abilities, set them apart from other organisms. With their adaptability to various environments and remarkable physiological control, mammals have become one of the most successful and widespread groups in the animal kingdom.

Mammals Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (chordates)
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata (vertebrates)
  • Class: Mammalia (mammals)

Characteristics Of Mammals

Mammals possess several distinct characteristics that set them apart from other classes of animals:

  1. Warm-bloodedness: Mammals are warm-blooded, meaning they have the ability to regulate their internal body temperature independently of the surrounding environment. This allows them to thrive in diverse habitats.
  2. Live birth: Mammals give birth to live young, rather than laying eggs. They have well-developed offspring that are nurtured and cared for by their parents.
  3. Mammary glands: Mammals possess specialized mammary glands that produce milk to feed their young. This unique characteristic is exclusive to mammals and allows for the provision of nourishment and protection to their offspring.
  4. Hair or fur: Most mammals have hair or fur covering their bodies, providing insulation, protection, and sensory functions. The type and density of hair vary among species and are adapted to their specific environments.
  5. Well-developed brains: Mammals often have advanced nervous systems and well-developed brains. This enables them to exhibit complex behaviors, cognitive abilities, and adaptability to changing circumstances.
  6. Specialized teeth: Mammals have different types of teeth, adapted for various feeding habits. They possess incisors, canines, premolars, and molars, allowing them to consume a diverse range of foods.
  7. Four-chambered heart: Mammals have a four-chambered heart, which ensures efficient circulation of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood throughout the body.
  8. Parental care: Many mammals display varying levels of parental care, with parents actively protecting, nourishing, and teaching their young. This nurturing behavior promotes the survival and well-being of offspring.
  9. Placenta: Mammals have a placenta, a specialized organ that connects the developing fetus to the mother’s uterine wall. The placenta facilitates the exchange of nutrients and waste products between the mother and the developing offspring.
  10. Efficient respiratory system: Mammals have a muscular structure called the diaphragm, which aids in breathing and ensures effective exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs.
  11. Well-developed senses: Mammals often possess highly developed senses, including sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. These senses allow them to navigate their environment, locate food, communicate, and interact with other individuals.
  12. Diverse reproductive strategies: Mammals exhibit a range of reproductive behaviors, including monogamy, polygamy, and promiscuity. The diversity of reproductive strategies contributes to the adaptability and survival of different mammalian species.
  13. Ecological diversity: Mammals occupy a wide variety of ecological niches, ranging from terrestrial to aquatic environments. They have successfully adapted to various ecosystems worldwide, showcasing their ecological diversity and evolutionary success.

These characteristics collectively define mammals and contribute to their unique position within the animal kingdom.

Classification Of Mammals

Mammalia is further classified into many taxonomic ranks. Mammalia is divided into three broad categories, known as subclasses, depending on reproductive characteristics:

1. Subclass: Prototheria (Monotremes)

The subclass Prototheria, also known as monotremes, represents a unique group of mammals that possess distinct reproductive and physiological traits. Monotremes are characterized by their ability to lay eggs, setting them apart from other mammals that give birth to live young. Let’s explore some key features of the subclass Prototheria:

  1. Egg-laying: Monotremes are the only class of mammals that lay eggs. Their reproductive system exhibits characteristics that resemble both reptiles and mammals. The eggs produced by monotremes are leathery and bear similarities to reptile eggs, particularly in terms of yolk composition.
  2. Cloaca: Monotremes possess a cloaca, which is a single orifice serving both waste elimination and reproduction. This anatomical feature is shared by reptiles, birds, and certain other early vertebrate species.
  3. Lack of Nipples: Monotremes do not have nipples like other mammals. Instead, they possess specialized skin growths known as mammary glands, which produce milk. The milk is secreted directly onto the skin and is then lapped up by the young monotremes.
  4. Presence of Electroreception: Monotremes, particularly the platypus, exhibit a fascinating adaptation known as electroreception. Electroreceptors are found on their snouts, allowing them to detect electric fields generated by the movements of prey in water. This unique sensory ability assists them in hunting and navigation.
  5. Unique Skeletal Features: Prototherians have distinct skeletal characteristics. For example, they have a shoulder girdle that is separate from the sternum, providing their forelimbs with additional mobility. Male monotremes also possess a cloacal spur, which is a venomous spur used during territorial disputes.

The subclass Prototheria consists of only one order, Monotremata, which includes two well-known examples of species:

  • Platypus: The platypus is a semi-aquatic monotreme that exhibits a combination of reptilian and mammalian features. It possesses a duck-like bill, webbed feet, and a dense waterproof fur. The platypus is known for its ability to hunt underwater using electroreception.
  • Echidnas: Echidnas, also known as spiny anteaters, are terrestrial monotremes. They have spiky spines covering their bodies and a long snout for feeding on ants and termites. Echidnas have a specialized tongue for capturing prey and, like other monotremes, lay eggs.

The subclass Prototheria, represented by monotremes, showcases the unique evolutionary path taken by these remarkable mammals. Their combination of reptilian and mammalian traits sets them apart from other mammals and highlights the incredible diversity found within the animal kingdom.

2. Subclass: Metatheria (Marsupials)

The subclass Metatheria, also known as marsupials, encompasses a fascinating group of mammals that exhibit unique reproductive characteristics. Marsupials give birth to relatively undeveloped live young, which then continue their development in an external pouch. Let’s explore some key features of the subclass Metatheria:

  1. Pouch Development: One of the most distinctive characteristics of marsupials is their reproductive system, which involves the growth of their offspring in an external pouch. After a brief gestation period, the underdeveloped young, known as joeys, crawl into the mother’s pouch, where they attach to specialized mammary glands and continue their development. The pouch provides a nurturing and protective environment for the growing young.
  2. Underdeveloped Newborns: Marsupials give birth to young that are relatively underdeveloped compared to other mammals. These newborns enter the world with undeveloped organs and limited mobility. However, they are well-equipped to crawl into the mother’s pouch, where they receive the necessary care and nourishment to complete their development.
  3. Placenta Functionality: While marsupials do have a placenta, it is less developed than the placentas of eutherian mammals (placentals). In marsupials, the primary function of the placenta is hormone production, and it plays a minimal role in nutrient exchange. Most of the nourishment and support for embryonic development occurs after birth through the mother’s milk.
  4. Diverse Ecological Adaptations: Marsupials have adapted to a wide range of ecological niches. They are found in various environments throughout Australia, the Americas, and certain regions of Southeast Asia. Marsupials display incredible diversity, including herbivorous, carnivorous, arboreal, and terrestrial species. This adaptability to different settings showcases their evolutionary success.

The subclass Metatheria includes several orders with numerous examples of species:

  • Didelphimorphia: Examples include the Virginia opossum, known for its opportunistic and omnivorous diet.
  • Paucituberculata: This order includes shrew opossums, small marsupials with insectivorous diets.
  • Microbiotheria: Monito del monte is the only living species in this order, found in the temperate rainforests of Chile and Argentina.
  • Dasyuromorphia: Species in this order include the Tasmanian devil and quolls, carnivorous marsupials known for their powerful jaws and hunting abilities.
  • Peramelemorphia: This order includes bandicoots and bilbies, small to medium-sized marsupials with diverse diets.
  • Notoryctemorphia: Marsupial moles are unique burrowing mammals found in arid regions of Australia.
  • Diprotodontia: This diverse order includes kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas. Kangaroos and wallabies are known for their hopping locomotion, while koalas are arboreal marsupials specializing in a diet of eucalyptus leaves.
  • Phalangeriformes: This order includes possums and gliders, arboreal marsupials adapted to life in trees.
  • Macropodiformes: Wallabies and kangaroos belong to this order and are known for their powerful hind legs and hopping locomotion.
  • Vombatiformes: Wombats, sturdy marsupials specialized for burrowing, are found in this order.
  • Burramyidae: Pygmy possums, small nocturnal marsupials, are included in this family.
  • Phascolarctidae: Koalas, iconic marsupials known for their specialized diet of eucalyptus leaves, belong to this family.
  • Petauridae: Sugar gliders are small gliding marsupials known for their skin flaps that allow them to glide between trees.
  • Potoroidae: Potoroos, small kangaroo-like marsupials, are found in this family.
  • Thylacomyidae: Bilbies, desert-dwelling marsupials with long ears and a long snout, are included in this family.

The subclass Metatheria showcases the incredible diversity of marsupials and their successful adaptations to various ecological niches. From kangaroos and koalas to opossums and gliders, these unique mammals have captivated the world with their distinctive reproductive strategies and ecological roles.

3. Subclass: Eutheria (Placentals)


The subclass Eutheria, also known as placentals, represents the most diverse and successful group of mammals. They are characterized by giving birth to fully developed live young that are nourished by a placenta during pregnancy. Eutherians can be found all over the world and exhibit a wide variety of animals, ranging from small mice and bats to primates and whales. Let’s explore some key features of the subclass Eutheria:

  1. Placental Development: Eutherians possess a well-developed placenta, which is a specialized organ that facilitates the exchange of nutrients, oxygen, and waste between the mother’s body and the developing fetus. The placenta supports the growth and development of the fetus throughout pregnancy, providing sustenance and waste removal.
  2. Viviparity (Live Birth): Unlike monotremes and marsupials, eutherians give birth to fully mature live offspring. The prolonged gestation period made possible by the placenta allows the young to be born in an advanced stage of development, increasing their chances of survival.
  3. Nourishment via Mammary Glands: Eutherian mammals have well-developed mammary glands that produce milk for their young. The milk is rich in nutrients and antibodies, essential for the survival and healthy development of the offspring. This mode of nourishment through breastfeeding is a defining characteristic of eutherians.
  4. Diverse Adaptations: Eutherians exhibit a remarkable range of adaptations and occupy diverse ecological niches. They have evolved to thrive in various habitats, including terrestrial, aquatic, and airborne environments. Examples of eutherians include primates (including humans), carnivores, ungulates, rodents, and cetaceans (whales and dolphins), among others. Their adaptability has contributed to their success and widespread distribution.
  5. Global Distribution: With few exceptions in extreme environments, eutherian animals have a worldwide distribution and can be found in nearly every ecosystem on the planet. They have successfully colonized different continents, showcasing their adaptability and ecological versatility across diverse habitats.

The subclass Eutheria encompasses various orders, which further classify eutherians based on their evolutionary relationships and shared characteristics. Some examples of these orders and the species they include are:

  • Primates: This order includes humans, monkeys, and apes, characterized by their advanced cognitive abilities and dexterity.
  • Carnivora: Lions, tigers, dogs, and cats are examples of carnivores, mammals adapted for hunting and consuming meat.
  • Rodentia: Mice, rats, and squirrels belong to this order, known for their gnawing incisors and diverse ecological roles.
  • Cetacea: Whales and dolphins, highly adapted marine mammals, are part of this order known for their aquatic lifestyle.
  • Artiodactyla: This order includes cows, deer, and pigs, ungulate mammals with an even number of toes.
  • Perissodactyla: Horses, rhinos, and zebras are examples of perissodactyls, ungulates with an odd number of toes.
  • Chiroptera: Bats, the only mammals capable of sustained flight, are classified in this order.
  • Lagomorpha: Rabbits and hares are part of this order, characterized by their long ears and powerful hind legs.
  • Soricomorpha: Shrews and moles belong to this order, known for their small size, insectivorous diet, and specialized adaptations.
  • Proboscidea: Elephants, the largest land mammals, are classified in this order characterized by their long trunks and tusks.
  • Pilosa: Sloths and anteaters are part of this order, adapted for a slow-paced lifestyle and unique feeding habits.
  • Tubulidentata: Aardvarks, primarily found in Africa, represent this order known for their distinctive long snouts and insectivorous diet.
  • Pholidota: Pangolins, the only mammals covered in protective scales, belong to this order.
  • Erinaceomorpha: Hedgehogs, known for their spiky coats, are part of this order.

The subclass Eutheria encompasses an extensive array of mammalian diversity, showcasing the adaptability and ecological success of placentals across the globe.

Evolution of Mammals

  1. Synapsids: Mammals belong to a group of synapsids, which are characterized by having a single opening in the skull. Earlier forms of synapsids became extinct by the Jurassic period.
  2. Non-Mammalian Synapsids: Early non-mammalian synapsids can be divided into two groups: pelycosaurs and therapsids.
  3. Cynodonts: Within the therapsids, cynodonts are believed to be the ancestors of mammals.
  4. Endothermy: Mammals exhibit endothermy, which means they can internally regulate their body temperature. This metabolic trait distinguishes them from most other vertebrates, which are ectothermic.
  5. Skeletal Changes: Increased metabolic rates in synapsids led to changes in skeletal structures. Mammals possess cheeks for holding food, heterodont teeth specialized for chewing, and a secondary palate that separates chewing and breathing regions of the mouth.
  6. Jawbone Modifications: The jawbone of synapsids evolved, with the presence of the zygomatic arch (cheekbone) suggesting the presence of the masseter muscle for chewing.
  7. Appendicular Skeleton: The shoulder girdle of therian mammals (placentals and marsupials) differs from other vertebrates, lacking the procoracoid bone and interclavicle. The scapula becomes the dominant bone.
  8. Evolution Timeline: Mammals evolved from therapsids in the late Triassic period, with the earliest known mammal fossils dating back to the early Jurassic period, around 205 million years ago.
  9. Mesozoic Era: Mammals began diversifying during the Mesozoic Era, from the Jurassic to the Cretaceous periods. However, most of these early mammals became extinct by the end of the Mesozoic.
  10. Cenozoic Era: A new radiation of mammals occurred during the Cretaceous period and continued into the Cenozoic Era, around 65 million years ago. This era witnessed the diversification and success of various mammalian groups.

Affinities of Prototheria

Prototheria, which includes monotremes such as echidnas and platypus, have several unique affinities:

  1. Egg-laying: Prototheria are the only group of mammals that lay eggs. This is a distinct characteristic that sets them apart from other mammals.
  2. Reproductive System: The reproductive system of prototherians shares characteristics with both reptiles and mammals. Their eggs have leathery shells, resembling reptile eggs in yolk composition.
  3. Cloaca: Monotremes possess a cloaca, which is a single opening for waste elimination and reproduction. This physical trait is shared with reptiles, birds, and some other early vertebrate species.
  4. Mammary Glands: While prototherians produce milk to nourish their young, they lack nipples. Instead, milk is released through specialized skin growths known as mammary glands.
  5. Electroreception: Monotremes, particularly the platypus, have electroreceptors on their snouts. These sophisticated sensory organs enable them to detect electric fields produced by the movements of prey in water, aiding in hunting.
  6. Unique Skeletal Features: Prototherians possess distinctive skeletal characteristics. For example, they have a shoulder girdle separate from the sternum, which provides their forelimbs with additional mobility. Male monotremes also have a cloacal spur that releases venom during territorial disputes.
  7. Evolutionary Position: Prototheria represents one of the most primitive subclasses of mammals. They are considered an early branch in the mammalian lineage, with characteristics that display affinities to both reptiles and other mammalian subclasses.

It is important to note that while prototherians exhibit unique affinities, they are also distinct from the other subclasses of mammals, including marsupials (Metatheria) and placentals (Eutheria).

FAQ

What are mammals?

Mammals are a diverse group of animals belonging to the class Mammalia. They are characterized by various features such as mammary glands, hair or fur, and the ability to give birth to live young.

What makes mammals different from other animals?

Mammals have several distinguishing characteristics. They are warm-blooded, possess mammary glands that produce milk for feeding their young, and have a unique skeletal structure that includes a single bone in the lower jaw.

How do mammals reproduce?

Mammals have different reproductive strategies. Most mammals give birth to live young, a process known as viviparity. However, some mammals, such as monotremes, lay eggs, and their young hatch outside the mother’s body.

What is the purpose of mammary glands in mammals?

Mammary glands in mammals produce milk, which serves as a vital source of nutrition for their offspring. The composition of milk varies among species but generally contains proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and antibodies.

Are all mammals covered in fur or hair?

Yes, the majority of mammals have fur or hair covering their bodies. However, some aquatic mammals, like dolphins and whales, have hair only during their early stages of development or have lost their hair entirely.

How do mammals regulate their body temperature?

Mammals are endothermic, meaning they generate their own internal heat. This enables them to maintain a relatively constant body temperature, independent of the surrounding environment, through various physiological mechanisms.

Do all mammals have teeth?

Yes, all mammals possess teeth, although the types and number of teeth may vary. Mammalian teeth are specialized for different functions, including cutting, tearing, grinding, and chewing, depending on the species’ diet.

How many species of mammals are there?

There are approximately 6,400 recognized species of mammals. This includes a wide range of animals, from tiny bats and rodents to large whales and elephants.

Where do mammals live?

Mammals inhabit diverse habitats worldwide, including forests, grasslands, deserts, mountains, and aquatic environments. They have successfully adapted to various ecosystems on every continent, including humans who are also mammals.

What role do mammals play in ecosystems?

Mammals play crucial roles in ecosystems as predators, herbivores, seed dispersers, pollinators, and prey. They contribute to the balance and functioning of ecosystems through their interactions with other organisms and their ecological niche.

References

  • http://www.lscollege.ac.in/sites/default/files/e-content/GENERAL%20CHARACTERS%20OF%20MAMMALIA.pdf
  • https://thesciencenotes.com/classification-characteristics-mammals/
  • https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-wmopen-biology2/chapter/mammals/
  • https://www.notesonzoology.com/phylum-chordata/mammals-general-characters-and-its-classification-zoology/3920
  • https://collegedunia.com/exams/mammalia-classification-order-subclass-examples-biology-articleid-2933
  • https://www.biologydiscussion.com/mammals-2/class-mammalia-characters-and-classifications-animal-kingdom/69895
  • https://www.vedantu.com/biology/mammalia
  • https://byjus.com/biology/mammalia-diversity-in-living-organisms/

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