Despite their size differences, the great blue whale and the pygmy shrew have something in common: they are both members of a warm-blooded, air-breathing class of vertebrate (backboned) animals known as Mammalia, or mammals. In many ways mammals are the most highly developed of all creatures.

The term mammal explains one important way in which creatures in this class are set apart from other animals. It comes from the Latin mamma, which means “breast”. Every female mammal has special glands, mammae that secrete milk. The females of all but the most primitive mamalian species are viviparous. This means they bear their young alive. The уоung are then fed with milk until they have grown enough to get food for themselves.

Hair is a typical mammalian feature. In many whales, however, it exists only in the fetal stages of development. Another basic trait of mammals is their highly developed brains – the most complex known. Particularly well developed is their cerebrum, the part of the brain that controls memory and learning. The mammalian brain enables the young to learn from the experience of their elders. Since the young mammal is dependent on its mother for nourishment, a period of learning is possible. This in turn has brought about a degree of behavioral adaptability unknown in any other group of organisms. Whales, seals, and dogs are among the most intelligent mammals, but monkeys, apes, and humans are the most intelligent of all.


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