Human beings! One of the most intelligent creatures on the planet! But are humans animals? This is an issue that has many proponents as it has opponents. This article seeks to set the record straight.
There is a lot of debate surrounding the topic of whether humans are animals or not. On one side, there are those who believe that humans are unique and distinct from all other creatures on earth. On the other side, there are those who argue that humans are just another animal species.
So, which side is correct? Are humans animals, or are they a unique species?
The truth is, more facts are inclined towards humans being animals. And according to various research and studies, scientists have come to the conclusion that humans are undoubtedly animals.
I know that calling someone an animal might sound like abuse or disrespect, but the facts are clear.
And, to help put this debate to rest, let’s first explore what it means to be an animal.
Table of Contents
- What is an Animal?
- What Differentiates Animals from other Organisms?
- What Makes Humans Animals?
- 1. Humans are Multicellular
- 2. Humans are Eukaryotic
- 3. We Have Sensory Organs
- 4. We Eat to Get Energy
- 5. We Move Around
- 6. We Reproduce
- 7. We Evolve
- 8. We are Intelligent
- What Differentiates Humans from other Animals?
- 1. We Feel Emotions
- 2. We have Culture
- 3. We are More Intelligent
- 4. Humans Use Language to Communicate
- 5. We Can Plan for the Future
- 6. We Can Use Tools
- 7. We Can Control Other Animals
- What Does it Mean to be Human?
- Related Resources
What is an Animal?
An animal is a living, breathing organism classified in the kingdom Animalia. Animals are multicellular and eukaryotic, which means that their cells contain a nucleus and other organelles within their cytoplasm.
Generally, all animals share specific characteristics, such as;
- Being able to move around on their own
- Eating food to get energy
- Having sensory organs that allow them to interact with their environment
There are many different types of animals, ranging from tiny ones like insects to massive ones like elephants. Also, some animals may seem similar to humans than others, in terms of appearance or even intelligence.
For example, chimpanzees or dolphins show a higher intelligence level than other animals. Nevertheless, all animals are unique in their own way.
What Differentiates Animals from other Organisms?
The planet is full of other organisms besides animals. But what differentiates these organisms?
Well, one main difference is that animals are able to move around on their own. This ability to move and interact with the environment allows them to gather food, find mates, and evade danger.
Additionally, animals have sensory organs that allow them to take in information from their surroundings. This includes sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.
These senses help animals navigate their world and survive in it.
All animals also need energy in order to live. They get this energy by eating other organisms or plants. And while some animals may eat meat or plants exclusively, others are omnivorous and can eat both.
At the cellular level, all animals also have mitochondria, which is what helps them produce energy.
What Makes Humans Animals?
As to whether humans are animals, there is no doubt about it. Humans are most certainly animals. But what exactly makes them animals?
Firstly, humans share a lot of characteristics with other animal species. These characteristics tie them to the human-animal kingdom.
Like all animals, humans have the following features and characteristics;
1. Humans are Multicellular
That’s right! The human body is made up of trillions of cells, just like other animals. And those cells are organized into tissues and organs that make our bodies function.
The work of these cells is directed and regulated by our DNA, which is the same as in other animals. These cells will produce and store energy, make proteins, transport other molecules in the body, and replicate DNA. All these are functions that all animal cells perform.
Therefore, even at the cellular level, we can easily answer our question – are humans animals?
2. Humans are Eukaryotic
Still, at the cellular level, humans can be classified as eukaryotic. What does this mean?
Eukaryotic organisms, also known as eukaryotes, are organisms whose cells contain a nucleus enclosed in a nuclear envelope.
Eukaryotic cells will also contain other organelles within their cytoplasm, including mitochondria and Golgi apparatus. All this is common with numerous other animals.
These features also distinguish them from prokaryotic cells found in bacteria and other single-celled organisms.
3. We Have Sensory Organs
Humans have all the same sensory organs that other animals do. These include eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin.
All animals can easily interact with the environment and survive in it using these senses. For instance, some animals use their strong eyesight to spot predators from afar. Others will use their hearing or smell senses to pinpoint the location of prey or food.
Generally, these senses help every animal to survive in its ecosystem. And humans are not any different. We use our eyes to see and evade danger, our mouths to eat, our skin to feel, and our noses to smell pleasant or unpleasant stuff.
4. We Eat to Get Energy
Just like all other animals, humans need the energy to live. We get this energy by eating food- either plants or other animals. And we use this energy to move, breathe, pump blood, and even think.
Additionally, we also use the energy to repair any damage that might have occurred in our bodies. For example, when we get a cut, our body will use some of the energy it has stored to close up the wound and stop the bleeding.
All these functions require energy which we get from food. In this sense, humans are animals because they need food for survival, just like other animals.
5. We Move Around
On average, humans can walk at a speed of about three miles per hour. And while this may not seem fast compared to other animals such as cheetahs or lions, it is still movement.
We need to move to find food, water, and shelter. And we also use movement to interact with our environment and escape danger. Other animals also do the same.
For example, predators move to get their prey while the prey runs for their lives. Whether predator or prey, movement is quite important for any animal to get to its food. Without movement, many animals would certainly starve to death.
6. We Reproduce
All sexually reproducing organisms are members of the kingdom animalia. Human biology puts humans in the same category.
When two sexually compatible cells fuse together- in a process called fertilization- an embryo forms. This embryo will then develop into a new organism that is genetically similar to its parents.
And just like all other animals, human embryos go through a series of developmental stages as they grow and mature into adults.
Different animals reproduce in different ways, but the end result is always the same- a new organism is created. Take the case of a human. After the male fertilizes the ovum on the female, the female carries the embryo for 9 months and gives birth to a new creature (baby).
In comparison, after a rooster fertilizes the egg, a hen will sit on the eggs for 21 days, when they hatch into chicks. While the two processes are different, they are also quite similar. There is fertilization, a gestation period, and a new organism being brought forth.
7. We Evolve
Another way to answer our question – are humans animals? – is to look at how we evolve.
All living organisms on earth are constantly evolving. This includes humans. Over time, as individuals in a population reproduce their DNA changes slightly.
Some of these changes might be beneficial and help the individual survive and reproduce better than those without it. Other changes might be harmful and lead to the death of the individual. That’s why we usually hear of extinct animals.
But over time, if enough individuals have these helpful changes in their DNA, then the entire population will start to change as well. This is called evolution by natural selection.
Like all other species, humans have evolved over time. According to various studies, human evolution dates back more than 2 million years ago. However, modern humans, who belong to the genus homo sapiens, first came into existence around 300,000 years ago.
Humans have evolved to form bigger and better brains, complex societies, and the ability to use tools. The human brain is known as one of the most intelligent ones, something that is quite evident based on their behavior.
8. We are Intelligent
All animals are intelligent in different capacities. For example, a cat is intelligent enough to know how to catch a mouse but not intelligent enough to understand human language.
On the other hand, a parrot is intelligent enough to learn how to say a few words but not intelligent enough to solve complex mathematical problems.
Each animal is intelligent in a way that helps it survive. And while humans may consider themselves superior, all we do is exercise our intelligence to help us survive.
Generally, we may do things that other animals cannot do, such as build houses, fly airplanes, and write books. But, it’s all because we need these things to survive in today’s society.
The hard fact is we are all limited in our intelligence and cannot do everything. For example, we cannot run as fast as a cheetah or jump as high as a kangaroo. Every animal has its own strengths and limits.
What Differentiates Humans from other Animals?
So, what is a human? Are human beings animals? Let’s find out.
The fact is humans are animals. However, several features and characteristics set them apart from other animals. And in many instances, this might make people think that we are somewhat not animals.
Some of these differences include:
1. We Feel Emotions
One of the things that make humans unique is our ability to feel emotions. We can feel happiness, sadness, anger, love, and fear- just to name a few.
But, this doesn’t mean that other animals don’t experience these emotions. They do! The only difference is that humans are more in tune with these feelings.
Humans can express their feelings through language, art, music, etc. It’s easier to know what someone is feeling, whether happy or sad, as they can express it in their faces, language, or outrightly telling you.
This is not the same thing for other animals. You have to be keen enough to identify when an animal is sad or happy.
2. We have Culture
Humans are the only animals with culture!
Culture refers to the beliefs, values, and customs that a group of people has. It’s what makes us unique as individuals and as groups. It defines human life, and it’s learned from people around us.
For example, the way we dress, the food we eat, and the way we behave are all influenced by our culture.
Some cultures are very different from others. For instance, in some cultures, it is customary to greet someone with a kiss on the cheek. In contrast, other cultures will consider this obscene.
Animals don’t have any culture. They might live in groups or families, hunt together, or take care of each other’s young ones (like lions), but that’s all. There are no codes or standards guiding them.
3. We are More Intelligent
This is obvious! Humans are more intelligent than other animals. We can think abstractly, we can solve problems, and we can use language.
This is not to say that other animals are not intelligent. They are! But their intelligence is limited to what they need to do to survive in their environment.
For example, while a chimpanzee or a gorilla resembles a human in so many ways, they cannot build a house or fly an airplane. However, it can use sticks and stones as weapons to hunt for food.
In the same way, a bird cannot solve complex mathematical problems but can build very intricate nests. This means that human brains are more innovative than other animals, including other primates.
4. Humans Use Language to Communicate
We are the only species that can use language as a means of communication. That’s right! Language is a system of symbols (words and signs) that represent ideas or concepts.
Besides using language to communicate with others, we also use it to think and reflect on our thoughts and experiences.
We have seen different animals mimick human sounds or words (like parrots). However, they cannot put together these symbols to form a complete sentence the way humans can.
This is because human language is more complex than animal sounds. It has grammar, syntax, and semantics.
Only one other animal has achieved the human communication style, although not fully – Koko, the gorilla. Koko gorilla was able to learn over 1000 human language signs throughout her life. Additionally, this primate could understand over 2000 spoken words and use them in sign language.
Usually, humans are closely related to great apes like gorillas and other primates. This might be the reason why Koko got to understand those many human words and signs.
However, despite Koko being intelligent enough to understand and communicate in the human language, it certainly had a lot that it couldn’t learn. And while interacting with Koko helped humans understand the gorilla species more, it showed that humans are way more intelligent.
5. We Can Plan for the Future
Planning for the future involves thinking about what might happen in the future and then taking the necessary steps. This might include planning for something you want to happen or avoiding a foreseen occurrence.
For example, you might plan for your next holiday by saving money each month. Or, you might plan your day tomorrow by making a list of tasks you need to do.
You might also plan to avoid future financial problems by saving or investing now. This ensures that you don’t run into money problems in the future.
In contrast, other animals can’t plan for future events. They might store food to cater for drier or cold seasons (chimpanzees, rodents, and some birds), but that’s it. Only humans can do that.
Most animals will live in the present moment and only think about what is happening right now. A few will think of what has happened in the past. They don’t have an awareness of time as we do.
6. We Can Use Tools
Besides opposable thumbs, humans are unique in that we use tools. A tool is any object that we use to achieve a goal.
For example, you might use a hammer to drive a nail into the wall or use a knife to cut food.
Tool usage separates us from other animals because it shows our ability to think. We can see how an object can be used for different purposes and then select the one that helps us achieve our goal.
Several other animals might also use objects as tools. However, they don’t do so at the same level of sophistication as humans.
For example, monkeys might use a stone to break some nuts. But, they can’t use the same stones to build a shelter. However, most humans can use tools for their benefit.
7. We Can Control Other Animals
Despite our small size compared to other animals, humans are able to control a large number of them. We do this by training and domesticating them.
Dogs, for example, have been domesticated by humans for thousands of years. They are used as companions, service animals, and working dogs.
Other animals that have been domesticated include camels, elephants, horses, and cows. Humans have also been known to tame even the most dangerous animals like lions and tigers.
What Does it Mean to be Human?
As we have seen, there are so many characteristics that can help us classify humans. These include their cellular structure, behaviors, features, and capabilities.
For instance, humans can plan, use tools, use language to communicate, etc. Subsequently, some of these capabilities have made humans regard themselves as superior to all other animals.
However, while we might be superior in thoughts and a few other aspects, some animals are superior in other capabilities. Some animals even live quite longer than humans.
Therefore, it is hard to say without a doubt that humans are the best animals. Nonetheless, they undoubtedly come close!
What do you think? Are humans animals?