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Breaking Down Monster Taxonomy

Novelist Scott Sigler’s horror column appears every Thursday.

Real science and monster movies don’t make good dance partners. Those pesky physics get in the way, as do wacky things like natural selection and evolution. But quite honestly, none of us give a crap. It’s a monster flick. Bring it. Maybe include just enough fact so we can buy in (a la Jurassic Park) and it’s on like Donkey Kong (or, in this case, King Kong).

However, our absurd level of enjoyment does not completely excuse us from our responsibility to science. How do we classify these boogers? Is Kong more related to Godzilla, or Jason Vorhees? Just because they is all fake don’t mean we can’t apply some learning here, so let’s get down with our monster taxonomy. Jump in the way-back machine for some Biology 101: Biological classification, taxonomy, the science of saying what animal is what. Remember these homework-flashback-inducing phrases?

• Kingdom
• Phylum
• Class
• Order
• Family
• Genus
• Species

Aw yeah, now you remember peeking at the notes of the guy next to you.

There’s only two we have to worry about here: Animalia and Plantea. Yep, fancy-pants talk for Animals and Plants. Protista makes just one notable appearance, The Blob. Clearly, Animals are the dominant kingdom in the world of horror, as it includes mammals, insects, sea monsters and, for the most part, the undead. Cloverfield and Leprechaun and all sizes in-between fall into that Animalia. However, there are a few notable plant horrors.

Plantae Monstera
While newcomers The Ruins (killer vines) and The Happening (killer psychotropic plant spores) want to shake up the natural monster order of things, you just can’t been the co-champs of the killer plant world, Day of the Triffids and Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors.

The phylum Chordata covers most of the troublemakers on the silver screen. That’s anything with a spinal cord, with or without a backbone. Mammals, both living and undead, fall into this category, as do reptiles, giant squids, Clover, Mothra, and more.

Here’s where we start to get down to the nitty-gritty. Just look at this list, and you can see where your particular nightmares fall:
• Fish ( Jaws )
• Amphibians (The Host)
• Reptiles ( Godzilla )
• Birds ( Rodan )
• Insects ( Them )
• Mammals (just about everything else)

Too much detail to get into here. This is a humorous horror blog, people, not a doctoral dissertation. Each of the classes breaks down into multiple orders. Mammalia, in particular, has twenty-six orders. There’s a lot going on in this category, but I’ve got one word for ya: Carnovira. Clearly, this is going to be the big hitter in the world of monster movies. Humans are not a member of Carnivora, but rather in the order of Primates (who eat animals or plants). So between Carnivora and Primates, we’re knocking out about 80 percent of monster movies.

This category has a bunch of Latin I can’t read. Therefore, I officially declare this category confusing, ineffective and a general pain in my scientific ass. That’s right, it’s a dysfunctional family. Ba-boom! I’ll be here all week, and tip your waitress.

The biggest monster genus has to be Homo (okay, when you stop giggling, let’s get back to work, this isn’t the seventh grade, you idiots).

And this is where the rubber meets the road. Combined with Genus, it’s where we get the specific names by which most of us know animals and monsters. For example, you can shorten the huge classification of humans down to just Homo sapiens and everyone knows what you’re talking about. At least the scientist-types know. No matter what the level of science education in America, it’s still not such a good idea to walk into a biker bar and shout “What up, all you Homo sapiens!”

Let’s be honest here, sub-species is a scientific cop-out. This is what
the lazy science kids use when they don’t want to do their homework to
define a species. It’s the scientific equivalent of taking a multiple
choice test and checking “C” for every question.

What About the Undead?

Some lesser-skilled writers and/or self-declared genius monster
biologists (like me) might try to come up with some crappy species name
like zombicus or draculoris, but let’s be frank — the undead are not a
unique species. They are reanimated corpses of existing species. If
you’re Homo sapiens and Lestat gets down on your jugular with the
backseat boogaloo, you’re still Homo sapiens —  just an undead
Homo sapiens. But vampire and werewolves can shape-shift, zombies can
move about with no active bodily functions, and ghosts can walk through
walls, not the kind of thing my neighbor Bob can do, so there’s got to be some other classification.
Fret not, my inquisitive students, we will address Undead
Classification in Part Two of this blog next week.

Famous Monster Classifications
So class, we’ve learned a lot today. Let’s put that knowledge into
practice, shall we? We’ll skip the quiz and give you all a B+. Since we
covered plants, all the critters below will be Kingdom: Animalia.

Godzilla: A relative of the Tyranosaurus family (because if a lizard
that can shoot lightening out his mouth isn’t “terrible” than I don’t
know what the hell is), Godzilla’s classification has to take into
account his super-size.
• Phylum Chordata
• Class: Archosauria
• Family: Tryannosauroidea
• Genus: Giganticus
• Species: Runlikehellicus

King Kong: Another big-hitter on the evolutionary stage, Kong’s breakdown is pretty simple
• Phylum: Chordata
• Class: Mammalia
• Order: Primates
• Family: Gigantus
• Genus: Gorilla
• Species: Likeshimsomeblondesicus

Jason Vorhees / Michael Meyers / Leatherface / Jigsaw /
Frankenstein: Yep, most of our favorite movie slashers are just
good-ole boys who took a wrong turn on the drunken road trip of life.
While Jason and Michael Myers keep coming back from the dead, they can
(and are) be killed by conventional weaponry, including but not limited
to guns, knives, scissors, chainsaws, and fire. Therefore, while they
are re-animated via some supernatural element, I’m not counting them as
true “undead” like a Dracula or a Freddy Kreuger.
• Phylum: Chordata
• Class: Mammalia
• Order: Primates
• Family: Hominidae
• Genus: Homo
• Species: Sapiens

The Ripper: This is the 3,000-pound wild boar from the movie Pig Hunt.
Can someone please tell me when this movie is out? I seriously can not
wait to see if giant boars can give big-ass crocodiles a run for their
money (which will be hard to do, as evidenced by my previous post on giant crocs).
• Phylum: Chordata
• Class: Mammalia
•  Order: Artiodachtyla (that’s “even-toed ungulates,” but you already knew that)
• Family: Suidae
• Genus: Sus
• Species: Scrofa
• Sub-species: Onehellofapigroasticus

Mimic: This 1997 pseudo-science fun ride featured some
seriously pissed-off cockroaches. The fact that the roaches mutated
faster than Madonna’s wardrobe and grew to be the size of NFL
linebackers sure didn’t hurt their cause.
• Phylum: Arthropoda
• Class: Insecta
• Order: Blattodea
• Family: Blattidae
• Genus: Metamorphicus
• Species: Getmeacanofraidicus

There you have it, dear readers, you have been educated. Real
science and monsters don’t mix? Puh-leeze! All you have to do is change
the science a little, and presto-chango you’re practically a Ph.D. If it works for Creationists, it can work for me. Catch you next
week for part two, all you Homo sapiens.

scott75.jpgScott Sigler writes tales of hard-science horror, then gives them away as free audiobooks at His hardcover debut Infected is available in stores now. If
you don’t agree with what Scott says in this blog, please email him Please include all relevant personal
information, such as your address and what times you are not home, in
case Scott wishes to send someone to “discuss” your opinions.

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