What is Zoology?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Zoology is the scientific study of the characteristics and classification of animals. It is one of the branches of biology, and therefore it is also referred to as animal biology. There are several sub-branches within this field, including ethology, zoography, and anthrozoology. Additionally, zoologists often specialize in the study of specific types of animals. For instance, an ornithologist studies birds, while a mammologist studies mammals. As zoology is a very interdisciplinary subject, there are a number of related fields, including taxonomy, paleontology, and evolutionary biology.

Zoologists study a variety of animals from frogs to jungle cats.
Zoologists study a variety of animals from frogs to jungle cats.

Sub-Branches

Common sub-branches of zoology include zoography, ethology, paleozoology, and anthrozoology. Zoography is the description of animals and the environments in which they live. These descriptions are often extremely detailed, and may also include information about the animal's behavior or eating habits. A related subfield is ethology, which is the study of animal behavior. Ethologists tend to focus more on behavior characteristics rather than specific types of animals, and may study many different species. Common behaviors studied include imprinting, aggression, emotion, and communication.

Zoologist Charles Darwin.
Zoologist Charles Darwin.

Another sub-branch is paleozoology, which is the study of animals that have been declared extinct. This includes animals like dinosaurs, but also things like certain fish and insects that have closer counterparts in modern times. The findings from this type of research are used to understand the physiology and behavior of extinct animals, but also for gaining insight into modern animal that descended from extinct ones. Cryptozoology, another subfield, attempts to reveal the existence of animals that are only rumored to exist, such as the Loch Ness monster and yeti. Cryptozoologists, however, may also do field studies if an animal declared extinct previously has been rediscovered.

A zoologist might study the differences between marsupial mammals, like koalas, and placental mammals.
A zoologist might study the differences between marsupial mammals, like koalas, and placental mammals.

Some zoologists choose to focus on the study of how humans and animals interact. This is called anthrozoology, and can include the study of how animals were domesticated, how humans think about animals, and the bonds formed between humans and animals. It's often connected with studies of animal rights, ethology, and psychology. Other researchers in anthrozoology focus on veterinary medicine, or on how animals can be used in therapy for humans.

The study of dinosaur fossils falls under a subgroup of paleontology called paleozoology.
The study of dinosaur fossils falls under a subgroup of paleontology called paleozoology.

Related Fields

One of the most closely related fields to zoology is taxonomy, which is the practice of classifying different types of organisms according to shared characteristics. There are specific organizational structures that animals are put into, usually starting with superfamilies, and ending with subspecies. This field is also related to systematics, in which zoologists classify animals based on their genus or species.

Zoologists may specialize in the study of birds.
Zoologists may specialize in the study of birds.

Another related field is evolutionary biology. When done in the context of zoology, this field entails studying how animals originally evolved and how they changed over time. This is often closely connected with paleozoology. Ecology and environmental studies are also related subjects, particularly zoography and ethology.

Zoologists may study animal aggression.
Zoologists may study animal aggression.

Working as a Zoologist

Some universities offer a bachelor’s degree program in zoology, but people can also become zoologists through graduate work. Generally speaking, a person needs to have a bachelor's degree in a field like biology or chemistry before applying for graduate studies in this area. The area a zoologist specializes in often determines his or her work environment. Zoologists can and do work in zoos, but they can also conduct field research and laboratory research. They can also make plans for pest control or raising livestock, or provide insight into the best way to deal with an invasive species or clean up an ecosystem. Some zoologists also work as teachers or guides, educating people in zoos or other places about animals and their living environments.

Zoologists may focus on a specific type of animal, such as snakes.
Zoologists may focus on a specific type of animal, such as snakes.

History

Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations had medical knowledge about animals, but most early zoological studies were mystical rather than practical. The Greek physician Hippocrates and the philosopher Aristotle were both involved with early zoology. Hippocrates primarily focused on the physiology of animals, while Aristotle shaped the four pillars of zoology: anatomy, taxonomy, genetics, and physiology. Other prominent figures include the British field biologist Charles Darwin, whose works led to the increased understanding of the interrelationship between humans and animals, and Thomas Henry Huxley, an anatomist who is best known for as a proponent of Darwin's theory of evolution as well as his research into ape and human ethology.

Zoologists work on conservation efforts to protect endangered species.
Zoologists work on conservation efforts to protect endangered species.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon351865

How many types of zoologists are there in the entire world?

anon288081

Is a zoologist the same basic thing as a veterinarian? I have wanted to be a vet for years, but now I have an interest in zoology.

anon261507

Are there many jobs available in this field in America?

anon257063

Is there any future in zoology? That means a job with a good salary.

anon249976

Do zoology people work with,like, lion cubs?

anon246060

So, say I wanted to be a Zoologist, but I only wanted to work with, say, dolphins? What exactly would I be doing? Studying them? Studying their cells? Please reply!

anon119824

does a zoologist take care of the animals, like when they are sick? I want to be a zoologist but i also want to take care of animals.

anon106496

when was zoology discovered? I'm a freshman doing an assignment on zoology.

anon83360

who would pay for you to actually study zoology and I think you should be explaining the depth of zoology more!

anon63440

If I cut something in half and both sides look exactly alike, what do you call it?

anon53585

what is the importance of zoology?

anon53584

what are the other sciences related to zoology?

anon49182

can you please write some important discoveries that have helped mankind because i just don't think that you are explaining zoology enough.

anon35572

does zoology have a lot of travel opprotunties

sofia3370

Can a zoologist only work with dolphins, as a dolphin trainer and care?

anon28532

What other organizations depend on zoology?

What are the skills shortages and skills surplus in zoology?

anon18272

Vet Medicine is the equivalent of being a human doctor. they diagnose, treat, prevent, perform surgeries...etc. starting salaries are in the 6 digit range. it can take up to 8 years of schooling, if you get into a vet program (only 28 schools in america have a vet program, i suggest looking at Texas A&M)

Zoology is the study of animals. you can become specialized in a certain field or classification.

Besides dealing with animals, vet med and zoology go off onto different paths

anon16156

What is the differences between Veterinary Medicine and Zoology? Which would be better to go to school for?

anon2194

what are the job opportunities for the zoologist generally, or in a country like nigeria?

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