Breed vs. Species

What's the Difference?

Breed and species are two terms used to classify animals, but they have different meanings. A breed refers to a specific group of animals within a species that share similar physical characteristics and traits due to selective breeding by humans. Breeds are often created for specific purposes, such as herding, hunting, or companionship. On the other hand, species is a broader classification that refers to a group of organisms that can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. It represents a larger category that encompasses various breeds within it. While breeds are more specific and defined by human intervention, species is a natural classification that reflects the biological diversity of the animal kingdom.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
DefinitionA specific group of domestic animals within a species, developed through selective breeding.A group of living organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.
Genetic VariationVaries significantly within a species due to selective breeding.Varies significantly between species.
Physical CharacteristicsDistinctive physical traits specific to the breed.Distinctive physical traits specific to the species.
ReproductionCan reproduce within the same breed.Can reproduce within the same species.
InterbreedingCan interbreed within the same breed.Cannot interbreed with other species.
ExamplesLabrador Retriever, Siamese Cat, German ShepherdHomo sapiens (Humans), Canis lupus (Wolves), Felis catus (Domestic Cats)
Photo by Cristofer Maximilian on Unsplash

Further Detail


When it comes to discussing animals, two terms that often come up are "breed" and "species." While they are related, they have distinct differences that are important to understand. In this article, we will explore the attributes of breed and species, highlighting their unique characteristics and how they contribute to the diversity of the animal kingdom.

Understanding Breed

A breed refers to a specific group of animals within a species that share common physical and behavioral traits. Breeds are typically created through selective breeding by humans to emphasize certain desirable characteristics. These characteristics can include size, coat color, temperament, or working abilities. Breeds are often associated with domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, and cattle.

One key attribute of breeds is their ability to reproduce and produce offspring that share the same traits. This is known as breed purity. Breeders carefully select individuals with desired traits and mate them to maintain the breed's distinct characteristics. Over time, breeds can develop unique genetic traits that set them apart from other breeds within the same species.

Breeds also play a significant role in human society. They are often bred for specific purposes, such as herding, hunting, or companionship. Different breeds may excel in different tasks due to their specialized traits. For example, Border Collies are known for their herding abilities, while Greyhounds are renowned for their speed in racing.

It is important to note that breeds can only be created within a species. For instance, there are various breeds of domestic dogs, but you would not find a breed of dog within the species of wolves or foxes. Breeds are a result of human intervention and selective breeding.

Exploring Species

Species, on the other hand, is a fundamental biological classification that refers to a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. It is the basic unit of classification in the animal kingdom. Species are defined by their genetic similarity and reproductive compatibility.

Unlike breeds, species are not created or controlled by humans. They occur naturally and evolve over time through a process known as speciation. Speciation can occur due to various factors, including geographic isolation, genetic mutations, or natural selection. As a result, species exhibit a wide range of physical and behavioral characteristics.

One of the key attributes of species is their ability to maintain reproductive isolation from other species. This means that individuals from different species cannot produce fertile offspring together. For example, a horse and a donkey can mate to produce a hybrid called a mule, but mules are sterile and cannot reproduce. This reproductive barrier helps to maintain the genetic integrity of each species.

Species diversity is crucial for the stability and balance of ecosystems. Each species plays a unique role in its environment, contributing to the overall biodiversity of the planet. The extinction of a species can have far-reaching consequences, affecting other species and disrupting the delicate ecological balance.

Comparing Breed and Species

While breed and species are distinct concepts, they are interconnected in several ways. Breeds are subsets of species, representing specific groups within a larger species. They are created and controlled by humans, whereas species occur naturally and evolve through natural processes.

One of the key differences between breed and species is the level of genetic variation. Breeds tend to have a narrower genetic pool compared to species. This is because breeders selectively mate individuals with similar traits to maintain breed purity. In contrast, species exhibit a broader genetic diversity, allowing them to adapt to different environments and survive changing conditions.

Another difference lies in the reproductive compatibility. Breeds can interbreed freely within their own breed, producing offspring that share the same traits. However, they cannot interbreed with other breeds within the same species. On the other hand, species cannot interbreed with other species, as they are reproductively isolated. This ensures that each species maintains its unique genetic identity.

Furthermore, breeds are often created for specific purposes or traits desired by humans. They are selectively bred to enhance certain characteristics, resulting in a wide variety of breeds within a species. In contrast, species evolve naturally to adapt to their environment and fulfill ecological roles. Their diversity arises from the need to survive and thrive in different habitats.

It is worth noting that breeds can sometimes be considered subspecies. Subspecies are populations within a species that have distinct characteristics but can still interbreed with other populations of the same species. This further blurs the line between breed and species, highlighting the complexity of biological classification.


In conclusion, breeds and species are two important concepts in the animal kingdom. Breeds are specific groups within a species that share common traits and are selectively bred by humans. They are associated with domesticated animals and serve various purposes. On the other hand, species are natural classifications that represent groups of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. They play a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance.

While breeds and species have distinct attributes, they are interconnected and contribute to the rich diversity of life on Earth. Understanding the differences between breed and species allows us to appreciate the complexity of the animal kingdom and the remarkable adaptations that have occurred throughout evolutionary history.

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