Field guide training: Mammals – Part 1

This blog introduces you to mammology and provides you with essential knowledge about the identification, characterization and classification of mammals. Learn more

David
David
Nature
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Mammals (mammalia) are the most important group of animals during your guide training. This blog will introduce you to mammalogy and transfer knowledge about their behaviour, characteristics and classification.

One characteristic which combines all mammals are mammary glands. Mammary glands are organs, which are usually strongly developed with females and have the ability to secrete milk. Male animals are also equipped with mammary glands but in a reduced form. This unique adaption allows the mother to feed her offspring and protect it through close body contact – a behaviour which only appears among mammals.

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Mammals often tend to adjust the number of their offspring to their own capacities. This gives each individual a higher chance of survival. Scientist would call organisms who follow this reproduction strategy K-strategists.

Even though there are enormous differences in size, shape and behaviour between the different mammal species, there are other characteristics which all mammal species have in common:

  • Their body is covered with hair (at least during some staged of their development)

  • They are endothermic animals which means they regulate their body temperature from the inside through own heat production

  • They have external hearing structures

  • Their inner ear is constructed with three auditory ossicles: Malleus, incus and stapes

  • Their heart is built up out of four chambers (this characteristic also applies for birds and some reptiles, like crocodiles)

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There is a variety of strategies to classify mammals. A number of characteristics can be used to form reasonable groups the species can be assigned to. The three main criteria are:

  • Form and structure of their foot
  • Nourishment
  • Taxonomic hierarchy (Phylum: vertebrates; class: mammalia; order, family, etc.)

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