Biology » Introduction to Animal Diversity » Features Used to Classify Animals

Summarizing Features Used to Classify Animals


Organisms in the animal kingdom are classified based on their body morphology and development. True animals are divided into those with radial versus bilateral symmetry. Generally, the simpler and often non-motile animals display radial symmetry. Animals with radial symmetry are also generally characterized by the development of two embryological germ layers, the endoderm and ectoderm, whereas animals with bilateral symmetry are generally characterized by the development of a third embryological germ layer, the mesoderm.

Animals with three germ layers, called triploblasts, are further characterized by the presence or absence of an internal body cavity called a coelom. The presence of a coelom affords many advantages, and animals with a coelom may be termed true coelomates or pseudocoelomates, depending on which tissue gives rise to the coelom. Coelomates are further divided into one of two groups called protostomes and deuterostomes, based on a number of developmental characteristics, including differences in zygote cleavage and method of coelom formation.



animal without a body cavity

bilateral symmetry

type of symmetry in which there is only one plane of symmetry, so the left and right halves of an animal are mirror images


indentation formed during gastrulation, evident in the gastrula stage


lined body cavity

determinate cleavage

developmental tissue fate of each embryonic cell is already determined


blastopore develops into the anus, with the second opening developing into the mouth


animal that develops from two germ layers


mesoderm of deuterostomes develops as pouches that are pinched off from endodermal tissue, cavity contained within the pouches becomes coelom


animal with a body cavity completely lined with mesodermal tissue

indeterminate cleavage

early stage of development when germ cells or “stem cells” are not yet pre-determined to develop into specific cell types


blastopore develops into the mouth of protostomes, with the second opening developing into the anus


animal with a body cavity located between the mesoderm and endoderm

radial cleavage

cleavage axes are parallel or perpendicular to the polar axis, resulting in the alignment of cells between the two poles

radial symmetry

type of symmetry with multiple planes of symmetry, with body parts (rays) arranged around a central disk


during development of protostomes, a solid mass of mesoderm splits apart and forms the hollow opening of the coelom

spiral cleavage

cells of one pole of the embryo are rotated or misaligned with respect to the cells of the opposite pole


animal that develops from three germ layers

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