Introduction to Vertebrate Zoology


Learning Outcomes

On completion of the module the student should:
● Compare and contrast the morphology and anatomy of the major groups and be able to identify representatives of the groups
● Appreciate the adaptive features of the major vertebrate groups
● Have a preliminary insight into vertebrate evolution and phylogeny
● Be able to explain the basis of vertebrate classification


This module comprises a series of integrated lectures and practicals on the major groups of vertebrates with emphasis on (i) the basic features of vertebrate design, (ii) diversity of body form and function, (iii) inter-relationships.


The module begins with a description of the basic components of vertebrate organisation. Then the evolutionary history of fish is discussed by reference to the jawless fishes (Agnatha), the cartilaginous fishes (Chondrichthyes) and the bony fish (Osteichthyes). The importance of the evolution of jaws is noted.

Tetrapod origins from the lobe-finned fish (Sarcopterygians) and the evolution of the first land vertebrates are discussed. The general structure and physiology of modern amphibians (urodeles, anurans) are considered with reference to locomotion, respiration, osmoregulation and reproduction. Urodele and anuran metamorphosis is discussed together with variation in life histories, biochemical changes (excretion, haemoglobin) and hormonal control (role of thyroid, pituitary and hypothalamus).

Regarding reptiles, the following are discussed: General characteristics of reptiles, emphasising the structural, physiological and reproductive adaptations which equip them for a fully terrestrial existence. Survey of modern reptiles, illustrating major sub-divisions of the class in terms of living representatives (lizards and snakes, turtles, crocodilians). Brief evolutionary history of the group, summarising ideas on the origins and fate of some of the more important lineages.

Archaeopteryx and its significance for bird evolution is discussed, as well as feathers, aerodynamics of flight, and the structure and physiology of modern birds with special reference to flight. Also, bird reproduction and the cleidoic egg.

Finally, we consider mammals: their origins and the structural and physiological characteristics of the group, starting with the monotremes (egg-laying mammals) and the marsupials (pouched mammals) and their adaptive radiation and geographical distribution. Then, the placental mammals, their evolution and the mode of life of the major types: insectivores, carnivores, herbivores, aquatic mammals (especially whales) and primates.

Practical classes illustrate and develop the main themes of the lectures, especially through laboratory demonstrations of specimens, related video sequences, and a visit to Borth Animalarium. There are no dissections.