Animal (Lat. animalis, from anima, breath, soul), a term first used as a noun or adjective to denote a living thing, but now used to designate one branch of living things as opposed to the other branch known as plants. Until the discovery of protoplasm, and the series of investigations by which it was established that the cell was a fundamental structure essentially alike in both animals and plants (see CYTOLOGY), there was a vague belief that plants, if they could really be regarded as animated creatures, exhibited at the most a lower grade of life. We know now that in so far as life and living matter can be investigated by science, animals and plants cannot be described as being alive in different degrees. Animals and plants are extremely closely related organisms, alike in their fundamental characters, and each grading into organisms which possess some of the characters of both classes or kingdoms (see PROTISTA). The actual boundaries between animals and plants are artificial; they are rather due to the ingenious analysis of the systematist than actually resident in objective nature. The most obvious distinction is that the animal cell-wall is either absent or composed of a nitrogenous material, whereas the plant cell-wall is composed of a carbohydrate material - cellulose.
The animal and the plant alike require food to repair waste, to build up new tissue and to provide material which, by chemical change, may liberate the energy which appears in the processes of life. The food is alike in both cases; it consists of water, certain inorganic salts, carbohydrate material and proteid material. Both animals and plants take their water and inorganic salts directly as such. The animal cell can absorb its carbohydrate and proteid food only in the form of carbohydrate and proteid; it is dependent, in fact, on the pre-existence of these organic substances, themselves the products of living matter, and in this respect the animal is essentially a parasite on existing animal and plant life. The plant, on the other hand, if it be a green plant, containing chlorophyll, is capable, in the presence of light, of building up both carbohydrate material and proteid material from inorganic salts; if it be a fungus, devoid of chlorophyll, whilst it is dependent on pre-existing carbohydrate material and is capable of absorbing, like an animal, proteid material as such, it is able to build up its proteid food from material chemically simpler than proteid. On these basal differences are founded most of the characters which make the higher forms of animal and plant life so different.
The animal body, if it be composed of many cells, follows a different architectural plan; the compact nature of its food, and the yielding nature of its cell-walls, result in a form of structure consisting essentially of tubular or spherical masses of cells arranged concentrically round the food-cavity. The relatively rigid nature of the plant cell-wall, and the attenuated inorganic food-supply of plants, make possible and necessary a form of growth in which the greatest surface is exposed to the exterior, and thus the plant body is composed of flattened laminae and elongated branching growths. The distinctions between animals and plants are in fact obviously secondary and adaptive, and point clearly towards the conception of a common origin for the two forms of life, a conception which is made still more probable by the existence of many low forms in which the primary differences between animals and plants fade out.
An animal may be defined as a living organism, the protoplasm of which does not secrete a cellulose cell-wall, and which requires for its existence proteid material obtained from the living or dead bodies of existing plants or animals. The common use of the word animal as the equivalent of mammal, as opposed to bird or reptile or fish, is erroneous.
The classification of the animal kingdom is dealt with in the article ZOOLOGY.
(P. C. M.)