Cladogram (family tree) of a biological group, showing the last common ancestor of the composite tree, which is the vertical line 'trunk' (stem) at the bottom, with all descendant branches shown above. The blue and red subgroups (at left and right) are clades, or monophyletic (complete) groups; each shows its common ancestor 'stem' at the bottom of the subgroup 'branch'. The green subgroup is not a clade; it is a paraphyletic group, which is an incomplete clade here because it excludes the blue branch even though it has also descended from the common ancestor stem at the bottom of the green branch. The green subgroup together with the blue one forms a clade again.
The common ancestor may be an individual, a population, a species (extinct or extant), and so on right up to a kingdom and further. Clades are nested, one in another, as each branch in turn splits into smaller branches. These splits reflect evolutionary history as populations diverged and evolved independently. Clades are termed monophyletic (Greek: "one clan") groups.
Over the last few decades, the cladistic approach has revolutionized biological classification and revealed surprising evolutionary relationships among organisms. Increasingly, taxonomists try to avoid naming taxa that are not clades; that is, taxa that are not monophyletic. Some of the relationships between organisms that the molecular biology arm of cladistics has revealed are that fungi are closer relatives to animals than they are to plants, archaea are now considered different from bacteria, and multicellular organisms may have evolved from archaea.
Many commonly named groups, rodents and insects for example, are clades because, in each case, the group consists of a common ancestor with all its descendant branches. Rodents, for example, are a branch of mammals that split off after the end of the period when the clade Dinosauria stopped being the dominant terrestrial vertebrates 66 million years ago. The original population and all its descendants are a clade. The rodent clade corresponds to the order Rodentia, and insects to the class Insecta. These clades include smaller clades, such as chipmunk or ant, each of which consists of even smaller clades. The clade "rodent" is in turn included in the mammal, vertebrate and animal clades.