Anatomical terms of location
Figure 1: Animals often change position with respect to their
Standard anatomical terms of location are employed in
sciences 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 under-
stood by zoologists who speak any language.
Unfortunately, while these terms are standardized
within specific fields of biology, they can differ dramat-
ically from one discipline to another. Differences in ter-
minology remain a problem that, to some extent, still
separates the fields of zoological anatomy (sometimes
called zootomy) and human (medical) anatomy (some-
times called androtomy).
The Craniata (vertebrates) share a substantial herit-
age 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 an-
imal 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 stand-
ing 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 neces-
sary 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 veterin-
ary terminology, the ears would be cranial to (i.e. "to-
wards the head from") the shoulders in the armadillo,
the dog, the kangaroo, or any other vertebrate,
including the human. Similarly, while the belly is con-
sidered anterior to (in front of) the back in humans, this