What are Vertebrates?

Animals that have skeletons and backbone are called vertebrates. There are different kinds of vertebrates which fall under various classes. These include humans, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. 

Before we proceed to vertebrata characteristics, note that Vertebrata falls under phylum Chordata. Other sub-phyla are – Cephalochordata and Urochordata. 

Characteristics of Vertebrates 

Thinking what are the basic features of vertebrates? Read below to know more about it.

  • There is a distinct similarity in the anatomy of vertebrates with the presence of a vertebral column, gastrointestinal tract, and spinal cord.

  • Notochord develops into a vertebral column, and the vertebrae are present on the dorsal side.

  • Presence of the central nervous system is a crucial identifier. Nerve tube of the spinal cord in the anterior part expands into the brain. 

  • Jaws are present in some vertebrates. Order of vertebrates includes jawless species.

  • Internal skeleton aids in the distribution of different muscle attachment nodes.

Fun Fact!

Even though different types of vertebrates across the world includes approximately 65,000 species, it does not amount to more than 3% animals on the face of Earth. Hence most animal species in our world are actually invertebrates!

What is the Classification of Vertebrates?

Find out more about classification of vertebrates with examples. 

  1. Class – Mammalia 

Mammals have a four-chambered heart and warm blood. Usually, they give birth to their offspring, but exceptions like Echidna can also be found, which reproduces by laying eggs. Habitation of such vertebrates is varied.

Mammary glands are present for feeding the younger ones. Mammals have functional limbs and external pinna. Fertilisation in these vertebrates is usually internal. Examples – kangaroo, dolphin, whale, platypus.

  1. Class – Aves

Birds fall under this class of the vertebra. The distinctive feature of Aves is the feather-covered body and forelimbs that evolved as wings for flight. Exception in this regard is Ostrich, which cannot fly.

Bones have air cavities, and additional chambers can be found in the digestive tract. Example – vulture, pigeon, crow etc.

  1. Class – Reptilia

The body of reptiles are covered by scutes or scales, and in some instances, the epidermal scales can be cast-off as well. There are no external pinna and tympanum performs the auditory functions. Reptiles have three-chambered hearts, except crocodiles, in which it is four-chambered. As opposed to other vertebrates, reptiles are cold-blooded animals. Examples – tortoise, turtle, crocodile, snake etc. 

  1. Class – Amphibia

Amphibians are both terrestrial and aquatic animals. Tympanum acts as ear, and the body is covered by moist skin without scales. Cloaca acts as a common opening to the reproductive tract, urinary tract and alimentary canal. Respiration is through both lungs and gills, and the heart is three-chambered. Examples – salamander, tree-frog, toad etc. 

  1. Class – Pisces

This class includes fish with scales all over the body. These vertebrates are oviparous, and respiration takes place only through gills. Fish have two-chambered hearts, and the skeleton is made entirely of cartilage. Exception being sharks with a skeleton made up of both cartilage and bone.  

Test Your Knowledge 

i. Vertebrates are of five kinds. Which of the following does not fall under vertebrate?

(a) Birds 

(b) Mammals 

(c) Reptiles 

(d) Arthropods

Ans. (d) Arthropods

ii. Which of the following vertebrates is not considered as a mammal, even though other characteristics of vertebrates are present?

(a) Sloth 

(b) Armadillo

(c) Whale 

(d) Shark 

Ans. (d) Shark

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. List the General Characteristics of Vertebrates.

Ans. Primary characteristics of vertebrates are – presence of vertebral column, and a differentiated tubular brain. The body is also divided into tail and trunk regions.

2. How Many Classes of Vertebrates Exists? Name two Classes of Vertebrates.

Ans. There are a total of six classes of vertebrates. Mammals and birds are two classes of vertebrates.

3. What Main Characteristic is Shared by all Vertebrates?

Ans. As part of chordates, some features of vertebrates remains the same. Those include dorsal nerve cord, notochord, post-anal tail and pharyngeal slits.