Amphibian - Characteristics


The superclass Tetrapoda is divided into four classes of vertebrate animals with four limbs. Reptiles, birds and mammals are amniotes, the eggs of which are either laid or carried by the female and are surrounded by several membranes, some of which are impervious. Lacking these membranes, amphibians require water bodies for reproduction, although some species have developed various strategies for protecting or bypassing the vulnerable aquatic larval stage. They are not found in the sea with the exception of one or two frogs that live in brackish water in mangrove swamps. On land, amphibians are restricted to moist habitats because of the need to keep their skin damp.

Amphibians are cold-blooded vertebrates. Their metabolic rate is low and as a result, their food and energy requirements are limited. In the adult state, they have tear ducts and movable eyelids, and most species have ears that can detect airborne or ground vibrations. They have muscular tongues, which in many species can be protruded. Modern amphibians have fully ossified vertebrae with articular processes. Their ribs are usually short and may be fused to the vertebrae. Their skulls are mostly broad and short, and are often incompletely ossified. Their skin contains little keratin and lacks scales, apart from a few fish-like scales in certain caecilians. The skin contains many mucous glands and in some species, poison glands. The hearts of amphibians have three chambers, two atria and one ventricle. They have a urinary bladder and nitrogenous waste products are excreted primarily as urea. Most amphibians lay their eggs in water and have aquatic larvae that undergo metamorphosis to become terrestrial adults. Amphibians breathe by means of a pump action in which air is first drawn into the buccopharyngeal region through the nostrils. These are then closed and the air is forced into the lungs by contraction of the throat. They supplement this with gas exchange through the skin.

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