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Studying mammals: A winning design
The term mammal encompasses a huge variety of animals, including humans. But what makes...
The term mammal encompasses a huge variety of animals, including humans. But what makes a mammal a mammal? This unit explores some of the features, such as reproduction, lactation and thermoregulation methods, that mammals have in common. It is the first in a series of 10 ‘Studying mammals’ units.
By the end of this unit you should be able to:
- explain the distinctive biological features of monotremes;
- distinguish contrasting modes of reproduction in monotremes, marsupials and placental mammals;
- describe the cellular basis of lactation and explain the benefits of an early diet of milk;
- explain the significance of mammalian metabolic rate;
- explain how and why the thermogenic response differs amongst species;
- distinguish between behavioural and physiological temperature regulation;
- describe, with examples, the insulating properties of hair;
- distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate uses of the terms ‘primitive’ and ‘successful’.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Overview
- 2 How should we think of monotremes?
- 3 Reproduction in marsupials
- 4 Milk production (lactation)
- 5 Metabolism and body temperature
- 6 Thermoregulation and mammalian fur
- 7 What's special about placental mammals?
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Studying mammals: A winning design
Mammals come in a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes and yet all of the 4700 or so species have some characteristics in common. Indeed, it's the existence of these common features that justifies the inclusion of all such diverse types within the single taxonomic group (or class) called the Mammalia.
This is the first in a series of units about studying mammals. To get the most from these units, you will need access to a copy of The Life of Mammals (2002) by David Attenborough, BBC Books (ISBN 0563534230), and The Life of Mammals (2002) on DVD, which contains the associated series of ten BBC TV programmes. You should begin each unit by watching the relevant TV programme on the DVD and reading the corresponding chapter in The Life of Mammals. You will be asked to rewatch specific sequences from the programme as you work through the unit.
This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Studying mammals (S182) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in.
This is an extract from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Natural History courses or view the range of currently available OU Natural History courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Thursday, 21st July 2011
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements section.
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