Aristotle and Zoology

By Phin Upham

Aristotle was not infallible when it comes to his work classifying plants and animals, but his writings do represent mankind’s first foray into the practice of classifying animals and plants. He made several observations with regards to anatomy, especially in the octopus and cuttlefish, which were extremely accurate.

He successfully distinguished whales from other kinds of fish, and he was also able to identify that bees had a social structure. He even went so far as to begin to describe it. He witnessed live shark births, where he recorded that some sharks birth live young.

He made multiple observations that took several centuries to confirm as well.

One of his pursuits involved trying to classify animals, which he began by looking at the genera. He would look at each species within that genera, and try to distinguish animals based on those with and those without blood (or more accurately, red blood) flowing through them.

What is surprising is that these distinctions correspond with our observations on vertebrates and invertebrates. Including is classification of insects as bloodless, which corresponds to our modern classification of insects as cephalopods.

Aristotle was also one of the first to write down observations that would have only been possible through dissection. It’s likely he was not the first to engage in dissection, only one of the first to write his findings down. Through his observations of the internal systems of the animals he encountered, he was also able to discuss the embryological development of the chick.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or LinkedIn page.