Biological classification is based on shared descent from their nearest common ancestor. Accordingly, the important attributes or traits for biological classification are 'homologous', i.e., inherited from common ancestors.[3] These must be separated from traits that are analogous. Thus birds and bats both have the power of flight, but this similarity is not used to classify them into a taxon (a "class"), because it is not inherited from a common ancestor. In spite of all the other differences between them, the fact that bats and whales both feed their young on milk is one of the features used to classify both of them as mammals, since it was inherited from a common ancestor(s).

Determining whether similarities are homologous or analogous can be difficult. Thus until recently, golden moles, found in South Africa, were placed in the same taxon (insectivores) as Northern Hemisphere moles, on the basis of morphological and behavioural similarities. However, molecular analysis has shown that they are not closely related, so that their similarities must be due to convergent evolution and not to shared descent, and so should not be used to place them in the same taxon.[4]

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