Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo
Concepts of Biology

Chapter Summary

Concepts of BiologyChapter Summary

15.1 Features of the Animal Kingdom

Animals constitute a diverse kingdom of organisms. Although animals range in complexity from simple sea sponges to human beings, most members share certain features. Animals are eukaryotic, multicellular, heterotrophic organisms that ingest their food and usually develop into motile creatures with a fixed body plan. Most members of the animal kingdom have differentiated tissues of four main classes—nervous, muscular, connective, and epithelial—that are specialized to perform different functions. Most animals reproduce sexually, leading to a developmental sequence that is relatively similar across the animal kingdom.

Organisms in the animal kingdom are classified based on their body morphology and development. True animals are divided into those with radial versus bilateral symmetry. Animals with three germ layers, called triploblasts, are further characterized by the presence or absence of an internal body cavity called a coelom. Animals with a body cavity may be either coelomates or pseudocoelomates, depending on which tissue gives rise to the coelom. Coelomates are further divided into two groups called protostomes and deuterostomes, based on a number of developmental characteristics.

15.2 Sponges and Cnidarians

Animals included in phylum Porifera are parazoans and do not possess true tissues. These organisms show a simple organization. Sponges have multiple cell types that are geared toward executing various metabolic functions.

Cnidarians have outer and inner tissue layers sandwiching a noncellular mesoglea. Cnidarians possess a well-formed digestive system and carry out extracellular digestion. The cnidocyte is a specialized cell for delivering toxins to prey and predators. Cnidarians have separate sexes. They have a life cycle that involves morphologically distinct forms—medusoid and polypoid—at various stages in their life cycle.

15.3 Flatworms, Nematodes, and Arthropods

Flatworms are acoelomate, triploblastic animals. They lack circulatory and respiratory systems, and have a rudimentary excretory system. The digestive system is incomplete in most species. There are four traditional classes of flatworms, the largely free-living turbellarians, the ectoparasitic monogeneans, and the endoparasitic trematodes and cestodes. Trematodes have complex life cycles involving a secondary mollusk host and a primary host in which sexual reproduction takes place. Cestodes, or tapeworms, infect the digestive systems of primary vertebrate hosts.

Nematodes are pseudocoelomate members of the clade Ecdysozoa. They have a complete digestive system and a pseudocoelomic body cavity. This phylum includes free-living as well as parasitic organisms. They include dioecious and hermaphroditic species. Nematodes have a poorly developed excretory system. Embryonic development is external and proceeds through larval stages separated by molts.

Arthropods represent the most successful phylum of animals on Earth, in terms of number of species as well as the number of individuals. They are characterized by a segmented body and jointed appendages. In the basic body plan, a pair of appendages is present per body segment. Within the phylum, classification is based on mouthparts, number of appendages, and modifications of appendages. Arthropods bear a chitinous exoskeleton. Gills, tracheae, and book lungs facilitate respiration. Embryonic development may include multiple larval stages.

15.4 Mollusks and Annelids

The phylum Mollusca is a large, mainly marine group of invertebrates. Mollusks show a variety of morphologies. Many mollusks secrete a calcareous shell for protection, but in other species, the shell is reduced or absent. Mollusks are protostomes. The dorsal epidermis in mollusks is modified to form the mantle, which encloses the mantle cavity and visceral organs. This cavity is distinct from the coelomic cavity, which the adult animal retains, surrounding the heart. Respiration is facilitated by gills known as ctenidia. A chitinous scraper called the radula is present in most mollusks. Mollusks are mostly dioecious and are divided into seven classes.

The phylum Annelida includes worm-like, segmented animals. Segmentation is both external and internal, which is called metamerism. Annelids are protostomes. The presence of chitinous hairs called chaetae is characteristic of most members. These animals have well-developed nervous and digestive systems. Polychaete annelids have parapodia that participate in locomotion and respiration. Suckers are seen in the order Hirudinea. Breeding systems include separate sexes and hermaphroditism.

15.5 Echinoderms and Chordates

Echinoderms are deuterostome marine organisms. This phylum of animals bear a calcareous endoskeleton composed of ossicles covered by a spiny skin. Echinoderms possess a water-based circulatory system. The madreporite is the point of entry and exit for water for the water vascular system.

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. Most tunicates live on the ocean floor and are suspension feeders. Lancelets are suspension feeders that feed on phytoplankton and other microorganisms.

15.6 Vertebrates

The earliest vertebrates that diverged from the invertebrate chordates were the jawless fishes. Hagfishes are eel-like scavengers that feed on dead invertebrates and other fishes. Lampreys are characterized by a toothed, funnel-like sucking mouth, and some species are parasitic on other fishes. Gnathostomes include the jawed fishes (cartilaginous and bony fishes) as well as all other tetrapods. Cartilaginous fishes include sharks, rays, skates, and ghost sharks. Bony fishes can be further divided into ray-finned and lobe-finned fishes.

As tetrapods, most amphibians are characterized by four well-developed limbs, although some species of salamanders and all caecilians are limbless. Amphibians have a moist, permeable skin used for cutaneous respiration. Amphibia can be divided into three clades: salamanders (Urodela), frogs (Anura), and caecilians (Apoda). The life cycle of amphibians consists of two distinct stages: the larval stage and metamorphosis to an adult 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. A key adaptation that permitted reptiles to live on land was the development of scaly skin. Reptilia includes four living clades: Crocodilia (crocodiles and alligators), Sphenodontia (tuataras), Squamata (lizards and snakes), and Testudines (turtles).

Birds are endothermic amniotes. Feathers act as insulation and allow for flight. Birds have pneumatic bones that are hollow rather than tissue-filled. Airflow through bird lungs travels in one direction. Birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Mammals have hair and mammary glands. Mammalian skin includes various secretory glands. Mammals are endothermic, like birds. 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 live young. Eutherian mammals have a complex placenta.

There are 16 extant (living) orders of eutherian mammals. Humans are most closely related to Primates, all of which have adaptations for climbing trees, 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, and typically one young per pregnancy, stereoscopic vision, and a trend toward holding the body upright. Primates are divided into two groups: prosimians and anthropoids.

Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Apr 26, 2024 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.