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Neontology is the part of biology which – in contrast to paleontology – deals with now living (or, more generally, recent) organisms. The term neontologist is usually used only by paleontologists to refer to non-paleontologists. Stephen Jay Gould said of neontology:

All professions maintain their parochialisms, and I trust that nonpaleontological readers will forgive our major manifestation. We are paleontologists, so we need a name to contrast ourselves with all you folks who study modern organisms in human or ecological time. You therefore become neontologists. We do recognize the unbalanced and parochial nature of this dichotomous division – much like my grandmother's parsing of Homo sapiens into the two categories of 'Jews' and 'non-Jews'.[1]

Neontology is the study of extant taxa (singular: taxon). This means taxa, such as species, genera and families, whose members are still alive (as opposed to extinct). For example:

  • The moose is an extant species, while the dodo is an extinct species.
  • In the group of molluscs known as the cephalopods, as of 1987 there were approximately 600 extant species and 7,500 extinct species.[2]

A taxon can become extinct from extant if all the living species have died. On the other hand, an extinct taxon can become extant if there are new discoveries of extant species, or when previously-known extant species are re-classified as members of the taxon.


  1. ^ Gould, Stephen Jay (2002). The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Harvard University Press. p. 778. ISBN 0-674-00613-5. 
  2. ^ Barnes, Robert D. (1987). Invertebrate Zoology (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing. ISBN 0-03-008914-X.