The characteristic features of Chordata are a notochord, a dorsal hollow nerve cord, pharyngeal slits, and a post-anal tail. Chordata contains two clades of invertebrates: Urochordata (tunicates) and Cephalochordata (lancelets), together with the vertebrates in Vertebrata. Most tunicates live on the ocean floor and are suspension feeders. Lancelets are suspension feeders that feed on phytoplankton and other microorganisms. Vertebrata is named for the vertebral column, which is a feature of almost all members of this clade.
The earliest vertebrates that diverged from the invertebrate chordates were the jawless fishes. Fishes with jaws (gnathostomes) evolved later. Jaws allowed early gnathostomes to exploit new food sources. Agnathans include the hagfishes and lampreys. Hagfishes are eel-like scavengers that feed on dead invertebrates and other fishes. Lampreys are characterized by a toothed, funnel-like sucking mouth, and most species are parasitic on other fishes. Gnathostomes include the cartilaginous fishes and the bony fishes, as well as all other tetrapods. Cartilaginous fishes include sharks, rays, skates, and ghost sharks. Most cartilaginous fishes live in marine habitats, with a few species living in fresh water for part or all of their lives. The vast majority of present-day fishes belong to the clade Osteichthyes, which consists of approximately 30,000 species. Bony fishes can be divided into two clades: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes, virtually all extant species) and Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fishes, comprising fewer than 10 extant species but which are the ancestors of tetrapods).
As tetrapods, most amphibians are characterized by four well-developed limbs, although some species of salamanders and all caecilians are limbless. The most important characteristic of extant amphibians is a moist, permeable skin used for cutaneous respiration. The fossil record provides evidence of amphibian species, now extinct, that arose over 400 million years ago as the first tetrapods. Amphibia can be divided into three clades: salamanders (Urodela), frogs (Anura), and caecilians (Apoda). The life cycle of frogs, like the majority of amphibians, consists of two distinct stages: the larval stage and metamorphosis to an adult stage. Some species in all orders bypass a free-living larval stage.
The amniotes are distinguished from amphibians by the presence of a terrestrially adapted egg protected by amniotic membranes. The amniotes include reptiles, birds, and mammals. The early amniotes diverged into two main lines soon after the first amniotes arose. The initial split was into synapsids (mammals) and sauropsids. Sauropsids can be further divided into anapsids (turtles) and diapsids (birds and reptiles). Reptiles are tetrapods either having four limbs or descending from such. Limbless reptiles (snakes) are classified as tetrapods, as they are descended from four-limbed organisms. One of the key adaptations that permitted reptiles to live on land was the development of scaly skin containing the protein keratin, which prevented water loss from the skin. Reptilia includes four living clades: Crocodilia (crocodiles and alligators), Sphenodontia (tuataras), Squamata (lizards and snakes), and Testudines (turtles).
Birds are endothermic, meaning they produce their own body heat and regulate their internal temperature independently of the external temperature. Feathers not only act as insulation but also allow for flight, providing lift with secondary feathers and thrust with primary feathers. Pneumatic bones are bones that are hollow rather than filled with tissue, containing air spaces that are sometimes connected to air sacs. Airflow through bird lungs travels in one direction, creating a cross-current exchange with the blood. Birds are diapsids and belong to a group called the archosaurs. Birds are thought to have evolved from theropod dinosaurs. The oldest known fossil of a bird is that of Archaeopteryx, which is from the Jurassic period. Modern birds are now classified into two groups, Paleognathae and Neognathae.
Mammals in general are vertebrates that possess hair and mammary glands. The mammalian integument includes various secretory glands, including sebaceous glands, eccrine glands, apocrine glands, and mammary glands. Mammals are synapsids, meaning that they have a single opening in the skull. A key characteristic of synapsids is endothermy rather than the ectothermy seen in other vertebrates. Mammals probably evolved from therapsids in the late Triassic period, as the earliest known mammal fossils are from the early Jurassic period. There are three groups of mammals living today: monotremes, marsupials, and eutherians. Monotremes are unique among mammals as they lay eggs, rather than giving birth to young. Eutherian mammals are sometimes called placental mammals, because all species possess a complex placenta that connects a fetus to the mother, allowing for gas, fluid, and nutrient exchange.
29.7 The Evolution of Primates
All primate species possess adaptations for climbing trees, as they all probably descended from tree-dwellers, although not all species are arboreal. Other characteristics of primates are brains that are larger than those of other mammals, claws that have been modified into flattened nails, typically only one young per pregnancy, stereoscopic vision, and a trend toward holding the body upright. Primates are divided into two groups: prosimians and anthropoids. Monkeys evolved from prosimians during the Oligocene Epoch. Apes evolved from catarrhines in Africa during the Miocene Epoch. Apes are divided into the lesser apes and the greater apes. Hominins include those groups that gave rise to our species, such as Australopithecus and H. erectus, and those groups that can be considered “cousins” of humans, such as Neanderthals. Fossil evidence shows that hominins at the time of Australopithecus were walking upright, the first evidence of bipedal hominins. A number of species, sometimes called archaic H. sapiens, evolved from H. erectus approximately 500,000 years ago. There is considerable debate about the origins of anatomically modern humans or H. sapiens sapiens.