Studying online

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Unit Overview


A key skill for students entering a career in zoology is the ability to identify animals to species-level using taxonomic keys. This is relevant to students working, for example, as environmental consultants, for government conservation agencies, and those who wish to do fieldwork as part of further graduate study. Being able to identify animals is also an enjoyable part of interacting with nature.

This unit will introduce students to the skills, tools, and resources needed for the identification of species in a series of target taxonomic groups. Each week will be co-taught with an expert in the taxonomic group, and students will be given hands-on experience identifying actual specimens.

This course will feature teaching by expert curators from the Western Australian Museum, who will help students learn to identify animals. This course is taught in a flipped format. Each week, students will listen to and revise pre-recorded material, followed by an online quiz to reinforce the necessary knowledge for students to evaluate voucher specimens. Students will then come to a lab session, and work with experts to apply this knowledge to animal specimens.

Special topics include:

What are taxonomy and systematics?

What is a species?

The taxonomic challenge in Australia: how many undescribed species are there?

Why do museums voucher animals?

How species are described?

Understanding cryptic diversity

What to do if it's not a described species

Tools and resources for identifying species

DNA barcoding as a tool

Taxonomic groups for inclusion will focus on those that are relevant in Australia for conservation, medical, biosecurity, or economic reasons – those that students are most likely to need to identify in a workplace.

6 points
(see Timetable)
Semester 1UWA (Perth)Face to face
Details for undergraduate courses
  • Honours option in Zoology [Bachelor of Science (Honours)]

Students are able to (1) critically analyse information using the appropriate tools and resources, such as field guides and DNA barcoding, to identify both vertebrate and invertebrate animals; (2) apply knowledge about the breadth of animal body structures to determine the correct taxonomy of individual vertebrtate and invertebrate animals; (3) explain the challenges associated with delimiting vertebrate and invertebrate species in Australia; (4) use compound and dissecting microsopes to identify vertebrate and invertebrate animals; and (5) using a taxonomic group as an example, explain how an incomplete taxonomy of animals presents a risk to Australia.


Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) continuous assessment (for example, weekly online quiz on lecture material and practical worksheets); (2) a critical essay; and (3) a final exam. Further information is available in the unit outline.

Student may be offered supplementary assessment in this unit if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Unit Coordinator(s)
Dr Renee Catullo and Professor Mandy Ridley
Unit rules
Enrolment in
72520 Master of Biological Science (ID 165)
or HON-ZOOLY Zoology (ID 1393)
Contact hours
lectures (4 x 30 minute online lectures per week)
practical classes (4 hours per week for 10 weeks)
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Unit readings, including any essential textbooks, are listed in the unit outline for each unit, one week prior the commencement of study. The unit outline will be available via the LMS and the UWA Handbook one week prior the commencement of study. Reading lists and essential textbooks are subject to change each semester. Information on essential textbooks will also be made available on the Essential Textbooks. This website is updated regularly in the lead up to semester so content may change. It is recommended that students purchase essential textbooks for convenience due to the frequency with which they will be required during the unit. A limited number of textbooks will be made available from the Library in print and will also be made available online wherever possible. Essential textbooks can be purchased from the commercial vendors to secure the best deal. The Student Guild can provide assistance on where to purchase books if required. Books can be purchased second hand at the Guild Secondhand bookshop (second floor, Guild Village), which is located on campus.
  • Contact hours provide an indication of the type and extent of in-class activities this unit may contain. The total amount of student work (including contact hours, assessment time, and self-study) will approximate 150 hours per 6 credit points.