This month marks Carl Linnaeus’ 300th birthday and biology textbooks still look much the way he imagined they should. Linnaeus is the father of the ranking system of classifying the living world. You might remember kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, species from the back of your hand in 9th grade biology class. Indeed, this system has stood up surprisingly well for almost two and a half centuries despite revolutionary advances in other scientific fields like medicine, where we now know that flu is not caused by a small gnome living in your stomach. Unfortunately for Linnaeus’ legacy, ranking is finally under attack by that most pesky of new fields: DNA science. The new system, called cladistics, would compare species based on genetic similarity and expand and refine groups when new organisms were identified. It’s all terribly uncouth if you ask us.
One mammoth example of an organism improperly classified by Linnaeus’ ranking system is the Amphisbaenia or wormlizard, a creature resembling an earthworm but more closely related to lizards.
Amphibsaenia are burrowing creatures whose behavior is poorly understood. They move through the earth by expanding and contracting their segments in much the same way as earthworms. They have no outer ears and their eyes are deeply recessed and covered with skin and scales. Although there is one species in North America and they have been found in Europe, the majority of Amphibsaenia live in South America and Africa, where terrifying beasties seem to prefer to reside.