What’s the difference between breeds and species? Parrots and other birds have individual species; dogs and cats have breeds within their canine and feline species. But what’s the real definition of the two, and why are parrots referred to as belonging only to a ‘species’? The words ‘breed’ and ‘species’ refer to two different things: Animal husbandry and taxonomy.
Breeds are different types within a species, specific groups that have a homogenous (same) appearance. This will be the result of specific husbandry – breeding. If you want to consult good old Wikipedia, they write that a breed is not ‘an objective or biologically verifiable classification, but is instead a term of art amongst groups of breeders who share a consensus around what qualities make some members of a given species members of a nameable subset.’
Species refers to a biologically classifiable term, the lowest unit of taxonomic rank. ‘A species is often defined as an individual belonging to a group of organisms – or the entire group itself – that share common characteristics. [They] are usually capable of mating with one another to produce fertile offspring, or, failing that, (for example, the Liger) it has to be ecologically and recognisably the same.’
A species is given a two-part name: The generic name, and the specific name.
Taxonomy is just a system to classify where all plants and animals fall within the animal kingdom. You might think of it like a family tree. Here’s a good article from BirdTricks, which shows you how birds are classified by doing so for a Goffin’s Cockatoo.
If you wanted to class a Pacific Parrotlet, then it would look like this:
- Kingdom: Animalia.
- Phylum: Chordata. This group encompasses all vertabrate animals, that is, creatures possessing spinal chords.
- Class: Aves (AKA ‘bird.’)
- Order: Psittaciformes. All parrots fall under this order: They are defined by a hooked beak, zygodactyl toes – two toes forward, two toes back, for gripping – and the ability to mimic.
- Family: Psittacidae.
- Sub-family: Arini.
- Genus: Forpus, which is also the most well known genus of parrotlet. It includes all species of parrotlet commonly kept as pets: the Pacific Parrotlet, Mexican Parrotlet, and the Spectacled Parrotlet. A genus refers to a group of birds that have several specific characteristics in common.
- Species: Coelestis. Take these last two, genus and species, to find the scientific name.
- (Some birds also have a sub-species.)
On the converse side, dogs have no individual scientific name for their breeds. For example, a German Shepard Dog – also called an Alsatian – and a Welsh Corgie are both Canis lupis familiaris. Same goes for all other dogs. Their breeds are how we differentiate them, but it isn’t scientific.
Parrots having evolved separately all around the world – like budgerigars in Australia, Pacific Parrotlets from Ecuador, and Congo African Greys in Africa – they need to be classed in their own individual species. These are not breeds. Scientists do this to most accurately try and represent their evolutionary history.
Another good place to go read is here. This will help you understand all of this better.
Now you too can let people know that parrots have species, not breeds – and if you were so inclined, you can classify your own bird too!