Animals are multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia (also called Metazoa). The animal kingdom emerged as a basal clade within Apoikozoa as a sister of the choanoflagellates. Sponges are the most basal clade of animals. Animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and independently at some point in their lives. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later in their lives. All animals are heterotrophs: they must ingest other organisms or their products for sustenance.
Most known animal phyla appeared in the fossil record as marine species during the Cambrian explosion, about 542 million years ago. Animals can be divided broadly into vertebrates and invertebrates. Vertebrates have a backbone or spine (vertebral column), and amount to less than five percent of all described animal species. They include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The remaining animals are the invertebrates, which lack a backbone. These include molluscs (clams, oysters, octopuses, squid, snails); arthropods (millipedes, centipedes, insects, spiders, scorpions, crabs, lobsters, shrimp); annelids (earthworms, leeches), nematodes (filarial worms, hookworms), flatworms (tapeworms, liver flukes), cnidarians (jellyfish, sea anemones, corals), ctenophores (comb jellies), and sponges. The study of animals is called zoology.
With a few exceptions, most notably the sponges (Phylum Porifera) and Placozoa, animals have bodies differentiated into separate tissues. These include muscles, which are able to contract and control locomotion, and nerve tissues, which send and process signals. Typically, there is also an internal digestive chamber, with one or two openings. Animals with this sort of organization are called metazoans, or eumetazoans when the former is used for animals in general.
All animals have eukaryotic cells, surrounded by a characteristic extracellular matrix composed of collagen and elastic glycoproteins. This may be calcified to form structures like shells, bones, and spicules. During development, it forms a relatively flexible framework upon which cells can move about and be reorganized, making complex structures possible. In contrast, other multicellular organisms, like plants and fungi, have cells held in place by cell walls, and so develop by progressive growth. Also, unique to animal cells are the following intercellular junctions: tight junctions, gap junctions, and desmosomes.
During sexual reproduction, mating with a close relative (inbreeding) generally leads to inbreeding depression. For instance, inbreeding was found to increase juvenile mortality in 11 small animal species. Inbreeding depression is considered to be largely due to expression of deleterious recessive mutations. Mating with unrelated or distantly related members of the same species is generally thought to provide the advantage of masking deleterious recessive mutations in progeny. (see Heterosis). Animals have evolved numerous diverse mechanisms for avoiding close inbreeding and promoting outcrossing (see Inbreeding avoidance).
The next oldest possible animal fossils are found towards the end of the Precambrian, around 610 million years ago, and are known as the Ediacaran or Vendian biota. These are difficult to relate to later fossils, however. Some may represent precursors of modern phyla, but they may be separate groups, and it is possible they are not really animals at all.
Aside from them, most known animal phyla make a more or less simultaneous appearance during the Cambrian period, about 542 million years ago. It is still disputed whether this event, called the Cambrian explosion, is due to a rapid divergence between different groups or due to a change in conditions that made fossilization possible.
The remaining animals form a monophyletic group called the Bilateria. For the most part, they are bilaterally symmetric, and often have a specialized head with feeding and sensory organs. The body is triploblastic, i.e. all three germ layers are well-developed, and tissues form distinct organs. The digestive chamber has two openings, a mouth and an anus, and there is also an internal body cavity called a coelom or pseudocoelom. There are exceptions to each of these characteristics, howeverвЂ”for instance adult echinoderms are radially symmetric, and certain parasitic worms have extremely simplified body structures.