This is a work in progress... please bear with me, come back and watch it grow? Send constructive suggestions?
What you see below might be seen as an outline for what will eventually be spread across multiple pages.
The vertebrates are an order within the class chordata the animal kingdom. We are vertebrates, by the way, unless you, gentle reader, happen to be a sentient computer, an insect, or an alien. If Douglas Adams was right, and humans are merely the third most intelligent life form on the planet, and you are one of the superior species, then you are still a vertebrate. (That link, while totally "useless", is still worth careful study! At least find in it which are the other two intelligent species!! The passage in one of his books explaining how it was that both people and dolphins thought that they were the most intelligent creatures is wonderful, and I wish someone would write and tell me where that passage lies. The fact that the script of the radio show, the text of the novel, and the narration of the movie are all different doesn't help, but a citation, in an email, would be much appreciated!)
Anyway, if you've put your towel someplace safe, down to work....
If you'll allow a slight(?) distortion of current orthodoxy, the classes of vertebrate are as follows...
It is that last "group" that some people will not be happy about. More on the subject is explained in the page about the fishes.
For now, I leave that as an exercise for the student! I'll try to come back to this before too long.
I hope to have sub-pages for some of those groups for you before November 2010. Please write and complain if this note remains on 1 November.
Please don't use the term "invertebrate".
You will see courses by that name at top quality universities. My aversion to the word is not widely shared.
But... think about it for a moment. If you say something is a "vertebrate", you have actually told your listener quite a lot. When you say something is "an invertebrate", you've told them almost nothing. It is as if, in trying to describe a smell, you said "It is not a smoky smell, it is "un-smoky", or "in-smoky".
Well come on, people! What is "un-smoky"? There are so many things it could be!! What does "not a vertebrate" tell you???
So where does it come from? We are probably most interested in Things Like Us, and universities have run courses on "The vertebrates" for many years. Other professors... the entomologists, the vermologists (apologies for that made- up- by- me hybrid word. (Is there a specific term for "word made of roots from two languages?) Scolecology is slightly better, perhaps, but I wanted the name for the students of the group Darwin's great favorite, Lumbricus terrestris comes from)... obviously wanted to run courses too, couldn't justify a course for each phylum, and thus(?) the dreadful "invertebrates" was spawned? I suppose a course called "All about the other animals" might have been a little undignified? And of course, there are the people who think that only vertebrates are animals. Of course, you, gentle reader, have taken the trouble to become less ignorant! But some people have either been badly taught, or didn't bother to learn, during introductory science lessons.
Ah! The things you come across at the Flat Earth Academy. The material in the previous paragraph won't be in the test next week.
This page is still under construction. Complain if this note hasn't been updated by 22 October? I hope you will agree that what is above is worth something as it stands??
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