Zoology -Vertebrate

Course CodeBEN104
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment


If you want to spend the greater proportion of your working life actually with vertebrates, then one of the animal caring professions may be for you. This course will give you a thorough understanding of “higher” animals’ Zoology and Evolution, together with some principles on animal ecology and morphology. The course is also designed to further vertebrates knowledge for media and tourism professionals wishing to specialise in nature.

You will learn with the help of highly qualified and experienced tutors. The course is accepted by some animal health professional associations as points for their Continuing Education Recording Scheme, category “Correspondence courses”.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Vertebrate Taxonomy and Diversity Taxonomic classifications
    • Phylum, Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species
    • Vertebrata, Chordata (chordates), Acrania, Urochordata (Tunicata), Ascidia, Synacidiae, Thaliacea (Salpae), Appendiculariae, Cyclostomata (Lampreys and Hagfish), Chondrichthyes (Sharks, Skates and Rays, Elephant Fishes), Osteichthyes (Bony Fishes) (Choanichthyes (Lungfish), Amphibia (Amphibians – Frogs and Toads, Newts and Salamanders, Caecilians), Reptilia (Crocodiles, Lizards and Snakes, Turtles and Tortoises, Marine Iguanas), Aves (Birds), Mammalia (Mammals).
    • Morphology and Evolution
    • Environmental and Genetic Influences
    • Speciation, Diversification
    • Convergence
    • Food types and distribution
    • Terminology.
  2. Fishes: Fish Diversity - Covering major groups:
    • Class Agnatha (jawless fishes),
    • Class Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fishes) and
    • Class Osteichthyes (bony fishes).
  3. Ectotherms –Amphibians and Reptiles:
    • Definitions, Endothermy, Ectothermic, Tetrapods
    • Urodela (Caudata) – Salamanders and Newts
    • Order Anura (Salientia) – Frogs and Toads
    • Order Apoda (Gymnophiona) – Caecilians
    • Class Reptilia – Reptiles (turtles, lizards, snakes, crocodiles and the extinct Dinosauria)
    • Order Rhynchocephalia – Tuatara
    • Order Chelonia (Testudines) – Turtles
    • Order Crocodilia – Crocodilians
    • Order Squamata – Lizards and Snakes
  4. Birds
    • Physiology (Structure) and Anatomy, Feathers, Colour, Legs, Skeletal structure, Muscles, Senses,
    • Behaviour (Flight, Diving, etc),
    • Egg formation and Hatching.
    • Bird Taxonomy
    • Ratitae (flightless) birds;
    • Carinatea (flying birds)
    • Bird orders ( eg. Grebes, divers, Ducks, geese and swans, Storks, flamingos and herons, Owls, Eagles, falcons and hawks, Pelicans, gannets and cormorants,
    • Chickens, turkeys, game birds and mount birds
    • Rails, coots and cranes,
    • Pigeons and sand grouse,
    • Gulls, auks and plovers,
    • Parrots, parakeets, Hummingbirds, swifts, Woodpeckers, toucans, Kingfishers, bee-eaters and hornbills, Trogonos, quetzals, plumed birds,
    • Perching birds such as sparrows, starlings, swallows (Passeriformes),
    • Diving birds, loons, Cuckoos, coucals Nighthawks, whippoorwills, Mousebirds, etc.
  5. Mammals (Mammalia)
    • Overview
    • Taxonomy
    • Sub classes Prototheria (egg laying animals)
    • Subclass Metatheria (Marsupials) and
    • Subclass Eutheria (Placental mammals -these include such diverse forms as whales, elephants, shrews, and armadillos, dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, horses, monkeys and of course humans).
  6. Marsupials
    • Subclass Metatheria (eg. kangaroos, koalas, wombats, bandicoots, opossums, phalangers, etc)
    • Physiology
    • Locomotion
    • Reproduction
  7. Grandorders Glires and Insectivora
    • Rodents, Rabbits, Pikas, Hedgehogs, Moles, Shrews and Tenrecs.
    • Taxonomy
    • Structure
    • Adaptations.
  8. Carnivores
    • Dogs, wolves, bears, racoons, cats, weasels, hyenas, seals, sea lions and walruses.
    • Taxonomy
    • Physiology
    • Adaptations
  9. Hoofed Mammals (Ungulata).
    • There are seven separate orders within Ungulata as follows:
    • Order Artiodactyla. This includes: Hippopotamus, Deer, Giraffe, Sheep, Cattle, Antelope, Camelids
    • Order Cetacea. This includes: Dolphins, Porpoises, Whales
    • Order Perissodactyla. This includes: Horses, Rhinoceros, Tapirs
    • Order Tubulidentata. This includes: Aardvarks
    • Order Hyracoidea. This includes: Hyraxes (or Conies)
    • Order Proboscidea. This includes: Elephants
    • Order Sirenia. This includes: Manatees and Dugongs
  10. Primates and other Archonta. This grandorder is sub divided into four sub orders:
    • Scandentia e.g. Tree Shrews
    • Dermoptera e.g. Flying Lemurs, Colugos
    • Chiroptera. This order comprises the bats.
    • Primates (Or Order Primates and sub order Strepsirhini) e.g. humans, monkeys, apes and lemurs


  • Distinguish between major groups of vertebrates through a demonstrated understanding of their taxonomic classification and diversity.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of all major groups of fishes.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of all major groups of Ectotherms, Amphibians and Reptiles.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of major groups of birds
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of all major groups of Mammals.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals in the order Marsupialia and compare mammalian specialisations with those of other vertebrates.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals within the grandorders Glires and Insectivora. Explain Ectothermy in a variety of different animals.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals within the order Carnivora.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals within the grand order Ungulata.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals within the grandorder Archonta.

What You Will Do

  • Visit a Zoo, Wildlife Park or even a Pet Shop. Observe the range of animals present and report on them.
  • Visit an aquarium supply shop, marine park, fish retailer, or other facility where you can observe fish. If your mobility is restricted or you are unable to locate such a facility, look at the web site of an aquarium, and see what diversity of animals is to be seen on that web site. Identify animals from different orders and report on them.
  • Research the anatomical characteristics of one species of fish
  • Investigate the biological characteristics of one species of amphibian
  • Investigate the biological characteristics of one species of reptile
  • Research the biological characteristics of one species of bird
  • Observe the behaviour of a bird or birds for 1 hour (in the wild, or captivity). Take notes
  • Investigate the biological characteristics of one species of mammal.
  • Research a particular family or genus of marsupial.
  • Visit either a pet shop or zoo and observe any animals from the Glires or Insectivora that you find there.
  • Observe a dog closely. Take note of its external features in the light of the things you have learned in this lesson. Notice the shape of the head, body and legs, the characteristics of the feet, etc. Make notes on your observations.
  • Compile a scientific description of the anatomy of the dog you observed. Where possible, use technical terminology that you have learned during your course.
  • Visit a farm, pet shop or zoo and observe any animals belonging to the grandorder Ungulata that you find there. Make a list of these animals.
  • Research an order, family, genus or species of hooved Mammal (Ungulata).
  • Try to find out about the characteristics of your chosen group
  • Try to observe some monkeys and/or apes. You might do this by visiting a zoo, watching a video or looking on the Internet. Make notes of any similarities and dissimilarities you observe between these animals and humans. Research their physical and behavioural characteristics with a view to comparing these with human characteristics

The study of Zoology encompases a range of different areas of study; from taxonomy (classification) to morphology (body structure), genetics, environment and behaviour.

This course covers all of these things laying a foundation for building more in depth and specialised knowledg in any one of these areas where perhaps the student sparks a particular interest.


Extract from Course: 


Morphology is the study (-logy) of forms (morpho-). Animal morphology studies not only animal form, but also why animals develop in a certain way.

To understand why an animal part or structure is as we know them today, we have to study what pushes evolution in a certain path and not in another direction.

There are two major factors that determine evolution:

  • Environment
  • Genetics

Environment determines animal form by providing opportunities for better survival and reproduction. Environment provides for unoccupied habitats or ecological spaces (niches) where it is advantageous to develop structures or to use existing ones differently, to make the animal better suited to their environment, that is, to survive better as an individual or as a species. Thus environment puts limitations to animal evolution, and encourages certain evolutionary paths.

Morphological changes are also determined by genetics. A certain structure may change in a certain way, because there is a genetic possibility that allows for that change. But an animal cannot develop a structure when there are no genes that could be modified to develop the new structure. There must be a genetic predisposition. A primate cannot develop feathered wings because the feathered wing genes were not in primitive mammals’ evolution.
Genes are changing constantly, although the rate of change may be very slow. Genetic change is accelerated though when environmental changes are quicker. Evolution has been faster in geological times where environmental instability has been the highest.

Environment determines animal behaviour, and behaviour determines evolution as well. Animal behaviour is determined by basic survival needs:

  • Feeding
  • Reproducing
  • Surviving predation

Any structural change that reinforces or facilitates the three functions above will be promoted if there is genetic seed for it.

The effects of evolution in animal morphology can be classified in two main types:

  • Speciation
  • Diversification

Speciation happens when an animal population expands geographically. In every location, the population will encounter different environments, even if differences are slight. A one degree average annual temperature variation may be a significant difference for some species.

With time, there will be genetic variation in the population due to adaptations to the different environmental factors encountered across the population living grounds. Individuals may be able to breed with other individuals living nearby. But if genetic changes become too big, for instances in populations that were separated geographically long time ago, interbreeding cannot occur, and species become more and more distinct. Eventually they will develop as separate species.

There are several diversification processes by which evolution proceeds.

  • Successive adaptive radiation is the process by which a common ancestor gives rise to several different phyla, classes or families.
  • Convergence is seen when two or more different animal groups show the same characteristic or feature. For instances, birds and bats have wings. Fishes and dolphins have fins. Even if the structure seems similar and serves the same purpose, that is to fly or to swim, their origin is different, they are not derived from the same structure. They developed from different primitive structures to improve the animal or its progeny’s survival.

It's Easy to Enrol

Select a Learning Method


$485.00Payment plans available.

Courses can be started at any time from anywhere in the world!

Need Help?

Take advantage of our personalised, expert course counselling service to ensure you're making the best course choices for your situation.