Anatomical terms of location  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Standard anatomical terms of location are employed in science which deal with the anatomy of animals to avoid ambiguities which might otherwise arise. They are not language-specific, and thus require no translation. They are universal terms that may be readily understood by zoologists who speak any language.

Unfortunately, while these terms are standardized within specific fields of biology, they can differ dramatically from one discipline to another. Differences in terminology remain a problem that, to some extent, still separates the fields of zoological anatomy (sometimes called zootomy) and human (medical) anatomy (sometimes called androtomy).

The Craniata (vertebrates) share a substantial heritage of common structure, allowing much of the same terminology to be used for all of them. It is necessary for this terminology to be based on the anatomy of the animal in a standard way to avoid ambiguities such as might occur if a word such as "top" were used, which might designate the head of a human but the left or right side of a flounder. Most animals, furthermore, are capable of moving relative to their environment (see Fig. 1). So while "up" might refer to the direction of a standing human's head, the same term ("up") might be thought to point the direction to the belly for a supine human (at least, a sufficiently stout one). It is also necessary to employ some specific anatomical knowledge in order to apply the terminology unambiguously: E.g. while the ears would be superior to (above) the shoulders in a human, this fails when describing the armadillo, where the shoulders are above the ears. Thus in veterinary terminology, the ears would be cranial to (i.e. "towards the head from") the shoulders in the armadillo, the dog, the kangaroo, or any other vertebrate, including the human. Similarly, while the belly is considered anterior to (in front of) the back in humans, this terminology fails for the flounder, the armadillo and the dog (although it could work for the kangaroo). In veterinary terms, the belly would be ventral ("towards the abdomen") in all vertebrates. In human anatomy, as will be explained below, all naming is based on positions relative to the body in a standing (standard anatomical) position with arms at the side and palms facing forwards (thumbs out). While the universal vertebrate terminology used in veterinary medicine would work in human medicine, the human terms are thought to be too well established to change.

For invertebrates, locational terminology becomes more complicated, as many species are not bilaterally symmetrical. In these species, terminology depends on the type of symmetry present (if any).

Thus, standardized anatomical (and zootomical) terms of location have been developed, usually based on Latin words, to enable all biological and medical scientists to precisely delineate and communicate information about animal (including human) bodies and their component organs.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Anatomical terms of location" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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