Why is a dishotomous key called a dichotomous key?

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Why are classification and identification important?


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A dichotomous key is a very useful tool. It helps you identify unknown organisms by using a system that breaks down the characteristics of a set of organisms into TWO groups over and over again until you only have one organism in a group (Di = two and you only have two choices at each splitting of groups). Building a dichotomous key is not as hard as you might think it would be. All it takes is a bit of concentration. In this lab, we will be classifying and creating a dichotomous key for a various Aliens.



How to make a simple dichotomous key for taxonomic identification

Dichotomous keys are based on the use of pairs of contrasting statements. That is, the pairs of statements are designed so that if a characteristic isn’t described by one statement, it must be included in the contrasting statement. By setting up pairs of contrasting statements, you can set up a working key that leads the user to the correct identification. For example statement if 1a may be Alien does not have feet, then statement 1b would be Alien does have feet. Continue to break a group down by characteristics one at a time until you reach the correct classification. Then you continue with the next group.


1)Dichotomous Key for your candy specimens. This must include all 10 alien species. Please include new Genus and Species names for each alien. Ex. Alienus octus. The Genus name will be the same for all the aliens, while the species name will focus on one of their major characteristics.

2)Analysis Questions.


1. Use the most general traits that can be used to divide organisms up into two categories. These two categories will become 1a and 1b. Example 1a………………………… Go to 2 1b………………………… Go to 3


2. The second step (2a and 2b) needs to consist of a pair of statements that will allow for the identification of one organism (2b should ID one organism).


3. Every statement after the second should allow for the identification of one or two organisms.


4. The last pair of statements (ex. 5a and 5b) should identify two organisms.


5. There should be one less step then the total number of organisms to be identified in your key (if you have 6 organisms, you should have 5 paired statements to identify them all).


6. The more similarities the group of organisms has, the more difficult it is to develop the key. Try to choose characteristics that are different to make classifying the organisms easier.



1. What is the purpose of a dichotomous key (not just this key, but any key)?


2. Why is a dichotomous key called a dichotomous key?


3. Is it possible to create more than one dichotomous key for classifying and identifying the same group of objects?


4. When two people use the same dichotomous key to identify the same object, is it possible (should it be possible) for them to have different final answers?


5. Why are classification and identification important?



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