AskDefine | Define vertebrates

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of vertebrate

Extensive Definition

Vertebrates are members of the subphylum Vertebrata, chordates with backbones or spinal columns. The grouping sometimes includes the hagfish, which have no vertebrae, but are genetically quite closely related to lampreys, which do have vertebrae. Vertebrata is the largest subphylum of chordates, and contains many familiar groups of large land animals. Vertebrates comprise cyclostomes, bony fish, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. Extant vertebrates range in size from the carp species Paedocypris, at as little as 7.9 mm (0.3 inch), to the Blue Whale, at up to 33 m (110 ft).

Anatomy and morphology

One characteristic of the subphylum are that all members have muscular systems that mostly consist of paired masses, as well as a central nervous system which is partly located inside the backbone (if one is present). The defining characteristic of a vertebrate is considered the backbone or spinal cord, a brain case, and an internal skeleton, but the latter do not hold true for lampreys, and the former is arguably present in some other chordates. Rather, all vertebrates are most easily distinguished from all other chordates by having a clearly identifiable head, that is, sensory organs - especially eyes are concentrated at the fore end of the body and there is pronounced cephalization. Compare the lancelets which have a mouth but not a well-developed head, and have light-sensitive areas along their entire back.

Evolutionary history

Vertebrates originated about 500 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion, which is part of the Cambrian period. The earliest known vertebrate is Myllokunmingia. According to recent molecular analysis Myxini (hagfish) also belong to Vertebrates. Others consider them a sister group of Vertebrates in the common taxon of Craniata.

Fossil record

The earliest known fossil records of vertebrates are Myllokunmingia fengjiaoa and Haikouichthys ercaicunensis, dating somewhere between 513-542mya during the Early Cambrian. The fossils were discovered in Yunnan, China

Taxonomy and classification

Classification after Janvier (1981, 1997), Shu et al. (2003), and Benton (2004).
  • Superclass Tetrapoda (four-limbed vertebrates)


The word vertebrate derives from Latin vertebrātus (Pliny), meaning having joints. It is closely related to the word vertebra, which refers to any of the bones or segments of the spinal column.



  • Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function, Evolution
vertebrates in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Hweorfdēor
vertebrates in Arabic: فقاريات
vertebrates in Min Nan: Chek-chui tōng-bu̍t
vertebrates in Bosnian: Kičmenjaci
vertebrates in Breton: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Bulgarian: Гръбначни
vertebrates in Catalan: Vertebrat
vertebrates in Czech: Obratlovci
vertebrates in Welsh: Fertebrat
vertebrates in Danish: Hvirveldyr
vertebrates in German: Wirbeltiere
vertebrates in Estonian: Selgroogsed
vertebrates in Spanish: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Esperanto: Vertebruloj
vertebrates in Basque: Ornodun
vertebrates in Persian: مهره‌داران
vertebrates in French: Vertébrés
vertebrates in Western Frisian: Wringedier
vertebrates in Irish: Veirteabrach
vertebrates in Galician: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Korean: 척추동물
vertebrates in Croatian: Kralježnjaci
vertebrates in Indonesian: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Vertebrato
vertebrates in Icelandic: Hryggdýr
vertebrates in Italian: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Hebrew: בעלי חוליות
vertebrates in Javanese: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Georgian: ხერხემლიანები
vertebrates in Kurdish: Movikdar
vertebrates in Latin: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Latvian: Mugurkaulnieki
vertebrates in Lithuanian: Stuburiniai
vertebrates in Limburgan: Gewervelde diere
vertebrates in Lingala: Nyama ya mikúwa
vertebrates in Hungarian: Gerincesek
vertebrates in Macedonian: ‘Рбетници
vertebrates in Marathi: पृष्ठवंशी प्राणी
vertebrates in Malay (macrolanguage): Vertebrat
vertebrates in Dutch: Gewervelden
vertebrates in Japanese: 脊椎動物
vertebrates in Norwegian: Virveldyr
vertebrates in Norwegian Nynorsk: Virveldyr
vertebrates in Occitan (post 1500): Vertebrata
vertebrates in Polish: Kręgowce
vertebrates in Portuguese: Vertebrados
vertebrates in Romanian: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Quechua: Tulluyuq
vertebrates in Russian: Позвоночные
vertebrates in Sicilian: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Simple English: Vertebrate
vertebrates in Slovak: Stavovce
vertebrates in Slovenian: Vretenčarji
vertebrates in Silesian: Kryngowce
vertebrates in Serbian: Кичмењаци
vertebrates in Sundanese: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Finnish: Selkärankaiset
vertebrates in Swedish: Ryggradsdjur
vertebrates in Tagalog: Vertebrata
vertebrates in Tamil: முதுகெலும்பிகள்
vertebrates in Telugu: సకశేరుకాలు
vertebrates in Thai: สัตว์มีกระดูกสันหลัง
vertebrates in Vietnamese: Động vật có xương sống
vertebrates in Turkish: Omurgalılar
vertebrates in Ukrainian: Хребетні
vertebrates in Walloon: Cronzoxhî
vertebrates in Yiddish: ווערטייברעיטס
vertebrates in Samogitian: Stoborėnē
vertebrates in Chinese: 脊椎动物
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