Ask Science on the possibility of hybrids, chimeras, and even half-human/half-vampire creatures. Read on!
Lately, it seems as though every young girl’s dream is to marry someone who isn’t quite human. Popular culture has witnessed a flood of books and movies that deal with the results of unions between humans and things that aren’t quite human.
Vampires fathering children with humans, dogs with human eyes and emotions, and even werewolves who fall in love with half-human, half-vampire babies. Do such genetic mismatches have any hope of finding true happiness together? If such things are possible, why hasn’t the earth been overrun by half-rabbit, half-vulture monstrosities?
Groups Within Groups Within Groups
Historically, scientists have used a process called Taxonomy to arrange different organisms into groups and determine how they are related. For example, a cavemen scientist might have the put plants he discovered into two groups: “These plants make Ungar sick.” and “These plants don’t make Ungar sick.”
Over time, scientists started using other characteristics to create these groups and were delighted to discover that not only could they make more groups, but they could further divide the groups into subgroups and even subgroups of subgroups. The wild and crazy scientists continued on in this vein until pretty soon they had an entire hierarchy of classifications.
Taxonomic classifications typically start with the most obvious characteristics first. For example, it’s obvious that a wolf is an animal, so we would say it belongs in the animal kingdom, or more scientifically, “Kingdom Animalia.” (Traditionally taxonomic groups are named using Latin, probably to make them easier to use in magic spells). Each Kingdom is further subdivided into Phyla, which are then divided into Classes. Classes are divided into Orders which are divided into Families which are divided by Genus and then finally, Species. Whew.
Typically when scientists refer to an organism, they do so using its genus and species names. For example, the gray wolf is a member of the Canis genus and its species is lupus. So the scientific name for the gray wolf is Canis lupus, or C. lupus. (Note that the genus name is capitalized and italicized, while the species name is neither.