Carl Linnaeus Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

An estimated 8 million species of organisms live on Earth. Naming all of these species can get pretty tricky, but it's easier thanks to Carl Linnaeus. This lesson will teach you more about Carl Linnaeus and his contributions to science.

Who Was Carl Linnaeus?

You may have heard of Carl Linnaeus for simplifying the naming system scientists use to describe the millions of species on Earth. But there's much more to this renowned botanist, zoologist and physician.

Carl Linnaeus was born in Sweden in 1707. You might see his name written as Carl von Linne, his Swedish name, but he changed his name to the Latin Carolus Linnaeus upon starting college (taking on a Latin name when enrolling in college was common practice at the time). As a young boy, his father taught him about two important things that would later contribute to his impact on science: botany (the study of plants) and the Latin language. His love of botany started before the age of 10 and would continue until his death in 1778 at the age of 70.

Carl Linnaeus, 1707-1778
Carl Linnaeus 1707-1778

Linnaeus attended Uppsala University in Sweden. He proved his knowledge of plants and became a lecturer at Uppsala at the young age of 23! He felt frustrated by the way plants were classified and named, and he sought to improve these systems. At 25, Linnaeus set off on his first botany expedition and named more than 100 species of plants, beginning the naming system he is popular for today, binomial nomenclature.

Plants were not the only subject that interested Linnaeus. When he was 28, Linnaeus submitted a thesis about malaria to the University of Harderwijk in the Netherlands. He was accepted and, in just two weeks of admission, defended his paper and earned his doctor of medicine degree!

Linnaeus' Scientific Contributions

Binomial Nomenclature

Perhaps Linnaeus' greatest contribution to science is the creation and implementation of binomial nomenclature, in which the name of each species is made of two parts (the first part is the genus and the second part is the species). In 1773, Linnaeus published a book that would present his naming system to the world. This book was titled Systema Naturae (which means 'system of nature') and featured his writings about the descriptions, naming, and classification of plants, in addition to naming 7,700 plants and 4,400 animals.

Systema Naturae by Carl Linnaeus
1760 cover of Systema Naturae

Before this system, organisms were often given very long names that were confusing and hard to remember. So, Linnaeus shortened names to logical, two-part names. He used Latin and Greek in this system because those languages were taught around the world. You've probably encountered such names before, such as Tyrannosaurus rex (the carnivorous dinosaur) or Homo sapiens (humans). Linnaeus continued to popularize and standardize binomial nomenclature throughout his career.

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