Amphibia comprise an estimated 6,500 extant species that inhabit tropical and temperate regions around the world. Amphibians can be divided into three clades: Urodela (“tailed-ones”), the salamanders and newts; Anura (“tail-less ones”), the frogs and toads; and Apoda(“legless ones”), the caecilians.
Living salamanders (Figure 15.40) include approximately 500 species, some of which are aquatic, others terrestrial, and some that live on land only as adults. Adult salamanders usually have a generalized tetrapod body plan with four limbs and a tail. Some salamanders are lungless, and respiration occurs through the skin or external gills. Some terrestrial salamanders have primitive lungs; a few species have both gills and lungs.
Watch this video (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/river_monster2) about an unusually large salamander species.
Frogs (Figure 15.40) are the most diverse group of amphibians, with approximately 5,000 species that live on all continents except Antarctica. Frogs have a body plan that is more specialized than the salamander body plan for movement on land. Adult frogs use their hind limbs to jump many times their body length on land. Frogs have a number of modifications that allow them to avoid predators, including skin that acts as camouflage and defensive chemicals that are poisonous to predators secreted from glands in the skin.
Frog eggs are fertilized externally, as they are laid in moist environments. Frogs demonstrate a range of parental behaviors, with some species exhibiting little care, to species that carry eggs and tadpoles on their hind legs or backs. The life cycle consists of two stages: the larval stage followed by metamorphosis to an adult stage. The larval stage of a frog, the tadpole, is often a filter-feeding herbivore. Tadpoles usually have gills, a lateral line system, long-finned tails, but no limbs. At the end of the tadpole stage, frogs undergo a gradual metamorphosis into the adult form. During this stage, the gills and lateral line system disappear, and four limbs develop. The jaws become larger and are suited for carnivorous feeding, and the digestive system transforms into the typical short gut of a predator. An eardrum and air- breathing lungs also develop. These changes during metamorphosis allow the larvae to move onto land in the adult stage (Figure 15.41).
Caecilians comprise an estimated 185 species. They lack external limbs and resemble giant earthworms. They inhabit soil and are found primarily in the tropics of South America, Africa, and southern Asia where they are adapted for a soil-burrowing lifestyle and are nearly blind. Unlike most of the other amphibians that breed in or near water, reproduction in a drier soil habitat means that caecilians must utilize internal fertilization, and most species give birth to live young (Figure 15.42).