Vertebrate Animals: classification, characteristics and examples

Did you know that the number of vertebrate animal species that currently exist on Earth is more than 62,000 known species ? This staggering number hides multiple characteristics and ways of life within the extensive group of vertebrates, also commonly known as the animals that have bones .

Thanks to the presence of bones and the ease of fossilization of their skeletons, scientific studies related to the evolution of species have been able to reveal many curiosities and anatomical features of these fascinating animals. Other characteristics of vertebrates, on the other hand, have been studied through clinical analyzes linked to embryology, such as those that allowed us to discover what amniotes and anamniotes are.

Classification of vertebrate animals

How are vertebrate animals classified? It is convenient to begin to know them through their classification and the meaning of each aspect of their taxonomy. The extensive group to which each and every vertebrate animal species on the planet belongs follows an organized taxonomic classification. Thus, this group of vertebrate animals , called Subphylum Vertebrata , belongs, from smallest to largest taxonomic scale, to the following groups:

  • Chordata phylum: they have a dorsal cord, dorsal neural tube, gill slits and an anatomical structure in the form of a tail in some of their embryonic stages.
  • Superphylum Deuterostomy: in the early stages or stages of embryonic development, the anus develops before the mouth.
  • Subkingdom Eumetazoa: they have tissues themselves.
  • Kingdom Animalia: their embryonic development is complex and they have the ability to move, among other characteristics. Here you can learn more about the Animalia Kingdom: what it is, characteristics, classification and examples .
  • Super Eucaryota Kingdom: they are organisms made up of eukaryotic cells.

On the other hand, within the Subphylum Vertebrata the following classification of vertebrate animals is included :

  • Superclass Agnatos (without jaws): Class Hiperoartios (lampreys) and Class Mixinos (witch fish).
  • Gnathostomados superclass (with jaws): Chondrichthyan class (cartilaginous fish) and Osteichthian class (bony fish).
  • Tetrapods superclass (they have 4 limbs): Amphibia class (amphibians), Reptilia class (reptiles), Aves class (birds) and Mammalia class (mammals).

Likewise, scientifically it is possible to classify vertebrate animals into amniotes and anamniotes, according to the embryo, during its embryonic development, whether or not it has a protective membrane (amnion), respectively. According to this definition, the anamniotic vertebrate groups correspond to fish, lampreys, hagfish and amphibians; while the amniotic vertebrates are mammals, reptiles and birds.

Let’s see, below, many of the main general characteristics of vertebrate animals :

  • They have a spine or vertebral column that provides certain rigidity and robustness to the skeleton of the animal, which is made up of vertebrae. It performs the important function of support and at the same time, protection of the spinal cord and the nerves of the nervous system, as well as of adaptation to the movement of the animal, whether in terrestrial, aquatic or aerial environments.
  • All vertebrate animals have bilateral symmetry, as well as a skeleton made up of bony or cartilaginous bones.
  • The body of vertebrate animals is well differentiated in head, trunk and extremities (anterior and posterior). In addition, the vast majority have a tail-shaped limb that helps them to maintain their weight balance, as well as to move or perform arboreal functions.
  • The nervous system is complex and the organ in charge of sensory and motor responses is the brain, which is protected by a bony skull.
  • As for the reproduction of vertebrate animals, this is usually of a sexual nature, thus existing individuals with male and female reproductive organs, as well as the ability to exchange genetic information that will guarantee the survival and evolution of the species.


Female mammals have developed different adaptations related to the viviparous development of their young, such as the presence of breasts to feed newborns with mother’s milk. In addition, mammalian animals have sweat glands that allow them to regulate their body temperature, as well as complex digestive and sensory systems for a better diet and relationship with their environment, respectively.


The aerodynamic skeleton of birds is really complex and amazing, since each and every one of its anatomical elements is adapted to flight (in the vast majority of cases), thus having lighter bones, an anatomical structure called the keel in the that the wing muscles are inserted to fly, as well as feathers and beaks of different shape according to the type of feeding of the bird.


They are cold-blooded animals that need to spend certain hours exposed to the sun in order to regulate their body temperature. Many of the reptilian animals also stand out for the absence of extremities, both anterior and posterior, thus moving crawling with the rest of their body.


Throughout the life cycle of amphibians , they have both aquatic habits and land, needing always remain in humid environments during their adult stage, as they must keep hydrates your skin and encourage egg laying in the water during the reproductive period . In addition, their anatomical structure undergoes changes as they develop, losing their tail in adulthood.


The spine and skeleton of fish is fully adapted to movement in aquatic environments. The tail works as a weather vane to propel itself and maintain a certain swimming direction. In addition, their respiratory (gill) and sensory systems are fully developed depending on the environmental conditions of the aquatic ecosystems in which they live.

Get to know them better with this link to our article on Fish Classification . We also encourage you to learn more about this group of vertebrate animals, that of amphibians and that of reptiles with this other post about Vertebrate Animals without limbs .

Examples of vertebrate animals

After learning about its taxonomy and its various characteristics, we will now find out what vertebrate animals are . Therefore, in this section we offer a list of vertebrate animals , grouped according to the 5 main groups of vertebrates that fill the planet’s ecosystems with life:


  • Dog
  • Koala
  • Gorilla
  • Chimpanzee
  • Jaguar
  • Panther
  • Asian elephant
  • Bengal tiger
  • White rhino
  • Iberian lynx


  • Parrot
  • Toucan
  • Pelican
  • Seagull
  • dove
  • Snowy owl
  • Barn owl
  • Golden Eagle
  • Andean condor
  • Griffon vulture


  • Komodo dragon
  • Marine iguana
  • Chameleon
  • Lizard
  • Lizard
  • Gecko
  • Crocodiles
  • Alligators
  • Snakes


  • Arrowhead frogs
  • Tree frog
  • Common toad
  • Midwife toad
  • Salamander
  • Triton
  • Gallipato


  • Shark
  • Sunfish
  • Stingray
  • Lion fish
  • Salmon
  • Eel

Differences between vertebrate and invertebrate animals

As their own names indicate, the main difference between vertebrate and invertebrate animals is undoubtedly the presence and absence of vertebrae , respectively.

Thus, while vertebrate animals have a complex internal anatomy composed of a vertebral column with various vertebrae, as well as a protective skull for the brain and other bones in the extremities and the rest of the body; invertebrate animals, on the other hand, lack such internal anatomy.

Therefore, invertebrates are characterized by other anatomical elements, such as calcareous shells, covered with keratin and different articulated systems, such as arthropods, so these elements replace the internal skeleton of vertebrates, this being another difference between these two groups of animals.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Check Also
Back to top button