• General
  • Anatomy
  • Reproduction
  • Lifecycle
  • Diet
  • Evolution

Amphibians are animals that live part of their lives in water and part on land. They are vertebrates and are also ectothermic; they cannot regulate their own body heat, so they depend on sunlight to become warm and active. Amphibians also can't cool down on their own, so if they get too hot, they have to find a burrow or some other shade. In cold weather, amphibians tend to be sluggish and do not move around much.

Most amphibians have soft, moist skin that is protected by a slippery secretion of mucus. They also tend to live in moist places or near water to keep their bodies from drying out. Many adult amphibians also have poison-producing glands in their skin, which make them taste bad to predators and might even poison a predator that bites or swallows them. Some of these amphibians, like poison frogs, are brightly colored as a warning: Don't eat me, or you'll be sorry!

Young amphibians do not look like their parents. Generally called larvae, they change in body shape, diet, and lifestyle as they develop, a process called metamorphosis. A frog is a good example, starting out as a tadpole with gills to breathe underwater and a tail to swim with. As the young frog gets older, it develops lungs, legs, and a different mouth. Its eyes also change position, and it loses its tail. At this point it is an adult frog and spends most of its time hopping on land rather than swimming like a fish in the water.

Many amphibians have a biphasic life cycle involving aquatic eggs and larvae that metamorphose into terrestrial or semiaquatic juveniles and adults. Commonly, they deposit large numbers of eggs in water; clutches of the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) may exceed 5,000 eggs, and large bullfrogs (L. catesbeianus) may produce clutches of 45,000 eggs. Egg size and water temperature are important factors that influence an embryo’s development time. Eggs of many anuran species laid in warm water require only one or two days to develop, whereas eggs deposited in cold mountain lakes or streams may not hatch for 30 to 40 days. The development of salamander eggs often requires more time, with hatching occurring 20 to 270 days after fertilization.

Adult amphibians consume a wide variety of foods. Earthworms are the main diet of burrowing caecilians, whereas anurans and salamanders feed primarily on insects and other arthropods. Large salamanders and some large anurans eat small vertebrates, including birds and mammals. Most anurans and salamanders locate prey by sight, although some use their sense of smell. The majority of salamanders and diurnal (that is, active during daylight) terrestrial anurans are active foragers, but many other anurans employ a sit-and-wait technique. Caecilians locate their underground prey with a chemosensory tentacle and capture their quarry with a powerful bite (see chemoreception). Aquatic salamanders lunge at their prey with an open mouth and appear to suck the victim in by expanding their buccal (oral) cavity. The terrestrial lunged salamander extends its sticky tongue, which is attached anteriorly to the floor of the mouth, to ensnare a meal. In lungless salamanders, the hyobranchial apparatus is not part of the process of buccal respiration; this apparatus is modified so that it can project the tongue from the mouth. The end of the tongue is sticky to adhere to prey, and prey can be captured at distances ranging from 40 to 80 percent of the salamander’s body length.

Amphibians were not the first tetrapods, but as a group they diverged from the stock that would soon, in a paleontological sense, become the amniotes and the ancestors of modern reptiles and amphibians. Tetrapods are descendants from a group of sarcopterygian (lobe-finned) fishes. Precisely which group of sarcopterygians is still debated, although the consensus has shifted from the lungfishes (order Dipnoi) to an ancestor within a group of related fishes: family Panderichthyidae of order Osteolepiformes or fishes of the order Porolepiformes. The interrelationships of this group of sarcopterygian fishes have various interpretations, although their monophyly (derivation from a common ancestor) is highly probable. This aspect means that they all share a similar morphology and possess traits that served as structural predecessors for the evolution of terrestrial adaptations.




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