Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Semester 2
Normally A or AS Biology or its equivalent.
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 16 x 1 h lectures
Practical 3 x 3h practicals (duplicated)


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Assessed practical  20%
Semester Exam 2 Hours   Written semester examination  80%
Supplementary Assessment 2 Hours   Written examination and re-submission of failed coursework  100%

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the module the student should be able to

  • compare and contrast the morphology and anatomy of the major groups and be able to identify representatives of the groups
  • analyse the adaptive features of the major vertebrate groups
  • describe basic vertebrate evolution and phylogeny
  • explain the basis of vertebrate classification.


The module begins with a description of the basic components of vertebrate organisation. 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 explored. The general anatomy of modern amphibians (urodeles, anurans) is 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).

The general characteristics of reptiles are described, emphasising the structural and reproductive adaptations which equip them for a fully terrestrial existence. The modern replies are surveyed, illustrating the major sub-divisions of the class in terms of living representatives (lizards and snakes, turtles, crocodilians). A brief evolutionary history of the group is discussed, 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 the evolution of feathers, aerodynamics of flight, and the structure and physiology of modern birds with special reference to flight. Also, bird reproduction and the cleidoic egg.

The lectures conclude with a discussion of the mammals: their origins and the structural characteristics of the group. This section of the course begins with as discussion of the monotremes (egg-laying mammals) and the marsupials (pouched mammals) and their adaptive radiation and geographical distribution. Finally the placental mammals are discussed. Particular reference is made to their evolution and the mode of life of the major types: insectivores, carnivores, herbivores, aquatic mammals 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 where students can relate the material covered in lectures to living specimens. There are no dissections.


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.

Reading List

Recommended Text
Campbell, N. and Reece, J. (2005) Biology 7th Benjamin Cummings Publishers Primo search
Reference Text
Pough, F.H. et al (1996) Vertebrate life 4th Macmillan Primo search Young, J.Z. (1981) Life of vertebrates 3rd Oxford University Press Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 4