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Searching for a Common Ancestor

Searching for a Common Ancestor

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Science Fair Project Description

There are millions of species of plants and animals, and the ability to study them requires a system for classifying them. Taxonomy is the study of how living things are related to each other. By classifying a species, it is possible to find how closely it is related to other species based on its link to a common ancestor. In this science project, you will visit a zoo, botanical garden, or other facility, find species that interest you and compare their taxonomy.


Taxonomy describes the system for classifying living organisms. All living species that have been classified by scientist are classified using the follow categories:

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genius
  • Species

Example: The taxonomy of a black bear (Ursus americanus) is:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus: Ursus

Species: americanus

Example: The taxonomy of a sea lion (Scientific name: Zalophus californianus)


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Otariidae

Genus: Zalophus

Species: californianus

When we compare the taxonomy of a black bear and sea lion, we find that they share a lot in common. They share the same classifications for kingdom, phylum, and order. Their classifications differ at the level of family and genus. The lowest classification they share in common is order. This tells us that both the sea lion and the black bear have a common ancestor at this level.

Scientific Terms

Taxonomy, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genius, Species


  1. Internet access
  2. Access to one or more of the following:
    1. Zoo
    2. Oceanarium
    3. Specialized pet stores for fish, birds, or reptiles.
    4. Nursery
    5. Botanical garden
  3. Camera
  4. Journal and writing instrument
  5. Scratch paper
  6. Posterboard


  1. Visit one or more of the recommended animal or plant facilities (Note: Choose animal or plant species, not both.
  2. Select three different species that interest you.
  3. While viewing the species, take a photograph or make a drawing of the species. Note both the common and scientific name for each of the species.
  4. Using the internet, research the kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genius, for each of the species.
  5. Compare the taxonomy of your species as described in the background section.
  6. At what level or levels do you see commonality?
  7. Use the poster board to create a display for your science fair project. Include the following:
    1. An introduction to what taxonomy means.
    2. The objective of the science project.
    3. Photographs of your species.
    4. The common and scientific names of the species.
    5. An explanation of the level or levels that the species in common.
    6. A conclusion of what you learned from the project.


Related videos

Hey there! Here are some awesome videos about this science project that we think you'll really like. They're not only super fun, but they'll also help you learn more about the science behind the project. So sit back, relax, and get ready to have some fun!!
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