Imagine you are a paleontologist on a dig in Arizona. Your team just uncovered many well-preserved bones, and together you have been able to reconstruct a skeleton. Your challenge is to use clues about the skeleton to determine what family this creature belongs to.

Before you begin, consider that scientists classify all living things into seven major groups: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.


Fossil image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
Picture: Steve Fugikawa
This classification system is based on grouping things with similar characteristics, from the most general to the most specific. The kingdom is the largest and most general group. (For example, all plants belong to the plant kingdom.) Each kingdom is divided into several phyla, the second largest group. Phyla are divided into classes, and so on. A species is the smallest and most specific group.

In this challenge, you’re going to use this system (and lots of clues along the way) to figure out which family the mystery skeleton belongs to. Of course, to do this we need to start from the top, with the kingdom.

   
 
Along the way, click the camera to see examples.