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Subspecies facts for kids

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Crow subspecies
Two subspecies of crow. The left one is Corvus corone cornix; the picture was taken in Helsinki. The right one is Corvus corone corone; picture taken in Brussels.

Subspecies is a classification (taxonomy) in biology. It is directly below species. When looking at the Latin name, subspecies are indicated by the third name. Subspecies can mix with each other; animals or plants from different subspecies can have offspring together (This is usually not the case with animals from different species).

When looking at subspecies, they can also be told apart sufficiently by looking at the appearance or DNA of an animal or a plant.

Very often, there are populations that are between two subspecies; this is because evolution is a continuous process. Subspecies can often be recognised by subsp or ssp (before the third part of the name) especially in botany.

Ceylon paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi ceylonensis), an Indian paradise flycatcher subspecies native to Sri Lanka
African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus), the nominotypical (nominate) leopard subspecies native to Africa
Sunda Island tiger (P. tigris sondaica), a tiger subspecies native to the Sunda islands

Examples of subspecies are:

  • The dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and the dingo (Canis lupus dingo) are both subspecies of the wolf (Canis lupus)
  • The domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) is a subspecies of the Wild cat (Felis silvestris)

Nominate subspecies

In zoology, when a species is split into subspecies, the first described population is known as the "nominate subspecies", and it repeats the same name as the species. For example, the "Daboia russelii russelii" (known as the Indian Russell's Viper) is a nominate subspecies of the species "Daboia russelii" (known as the Russell's Viper).

Monotypic and polytypic species

One horn Rhino in Kaziranga national park
The Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) is a monotypic species

In biological terms, rather than in relation to nomenclature, a polytypic species has two or more genetically and phenotypically divergent subspecies, races, or more generally speaking, populations that differ from each other so that a separate description is warranted. These distinct groups do not interbreed as they are isolated from another, but they can interbreed and have fertile offspring, e.g. in captivity. These subspecies, races, or populations, are usually described and named by zoologists, botanists and microbiologists.

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