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  Zoology (Greek, ‘study of living things’) is the study of all aspects of the biology of animals. It was originally used to describe the study of the medical uses of animals and their products, and it was not until the 17th century that zoology began to be used to describe animal studies in their own right. However, human knowledge of animals is presumably as old as humans, and the original hunters must have known much about the ecology and behaviour of their prey animals and of potential predators. When humans began to develop animal husbandry, they came into close contact with various animals and, in the course of caring for valuable livestock, must have learnt much about their biology. The ancient Greeks studied many animals, largely in a descriptive sense, and the Roman writer Pliny the Elder (23-79), in his encyclopaedic work Natural History, devoted 5 volumes out of 37 to animals.

In the medieval period bestiaries were popular, listing animals in various orders according to similarities which were often superficial, and often illustrated with a significant degree of artistic licence. The first recorded scientific investigations of animals were made during the Renaissance by anatomists such as Vesalius, and during the 17th and 18th centuries progress was made with studies of biogeographical distribution of animals, stimulated by the exploration of the New World. Taxonomic systems became popular as humans attempted to describe the natural world in a systematic fashion.

The 19th century was a period of great expansion in zoology as broad areas of study such as morphology and physiology appeared; this expansion has continued throughout the 20th century, though the trend has been towards specialization of disciplines and away from general natural history and zoology. RB

See also anatomy; embryology; life.



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