Features of the Animal Kingdom

Complex Tissue Structure

Many of the specialized tissues of animals are associated with the requirements and hazards of seeking and processing food. This explains why animals typically have evolved special structures associated with specific methods of food capture and complex digestive systems supported by accessory organs. Sensory structures help animals navigate their environment, detect food sources (and avoid becoming a food source for other animals!). Movement is driven by muscle tissue attached to supportive structures like bone or chitin, and is coordinated by neural communication. Animal cells may also have unique structures for intercellular communication (such as gap junctions). The evolution of nerve tissues and muscle tissues has resulted in animals’ unique ability to rapidly sense and respond to changes in their environment. This allows animals to survive in environments where they must compete with other species to meet their nutritional demands.

The tissues of animals differ from those of the other major multicellular eukaryotes, plants and fungi, because their cells don't have cell walls. However, cells of animal tissues may be embedded in an extracellular matrix (e.g., mature bone cells reside within a mineralized organic matrix secreted by the cells). In vertebrates, bone tissue is a type of connective tissue that supports the entire body structure. The complex bodies and activities of vertebrates demand such supportive tissues. Epithelial tissues cover and protect both external and internal body surfaces, and may also have secretory functions. Epithelial tissues include the epidermis of the integument, the lining of the digestive tract and trachea, as well as the layers of cells that make up the ducts of the liver and glands of advanced animals, for example. The different types of tissues in true animals are responsible for carrying out specific functions for the organism. This differentiation and specialization of tissues is part of what allows for such incredible animal diversity.

Just as there are multiple ways to be a eukaryote, there are multiple ways to be a multicellular animal. The animal kingdom is currently divided into five monophyletic clades: Parazoa or Porifera (sponges), Placozoa (tiny parasitic creatures that resemble multicellular amoebae), Cnidaria (jellyfish and their relatives), Ctenophora (the comb jellies), and Bilateria (all other animals). The Placozoa ("flat animal") and Parazoa (“beside animal”) do not have specialized tissues derived from germ layers of the embryo; although they do possess specialized cells that act functionally like tissues. The Placozoa have only four cell types, while the sponges have nearly two dozen. The three other clades do include animals with specialized tissues derived from the germ layers of the embryo. In spite of their superficial similarity to Cnidarian medusae, recent molecular studies indicate that the Ctenophores are only distantly related to the Cnidarians, which together with the Bilateria constitute the Eumetazoa ("true animals"). When we think of animals, we usually think of Eumetazoa, since most animals fall into this category.

Link to Learning

Watch a presentation by biologist E.O. Wilson on the importance of diversity.

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