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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.