Arxiu d'etiquetes: frog

Metamorphosis and amphibian larvae

The word amphibian comes from ancient Greek words “amphi”, which means “both” and “bios”, which means “life”. Even if the word amphibious is an adjective used to describe animals that can live both on land and water, in the case of amphibians it also refers to both life stages through which these animals go through, as amphibians are born in an aquatic larval stage and become adults via a process of metamorphosis. In this new entry we’ll explain how metamorphosis works at a hormonal level, which anatomical changes occur during this period and the differences of this process among the different lissamphibian orders.

LISSAMPHIBIAN METAMORPHOSIS

Metamorphosis is present in the three lissamphibian orders. This process was already present in the first terrestrial tetrapods, which had to lay their eggs in water. Yet not all extant species present external metamorphosis, as some of them hatch as diminutive adults (as 20% of anuran species). In these species metamorphosis happens equally inside the egg before hatching, what’s called internal metamorphosis.

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Red-eyed tree frog eggs (Agalychnis callydryas) just before hatching, by Geoff Gallice.

As a general rule, lissamphibians lay their eggs in water. In most species, aquatic larvae will hatch from gelatinous eggs, even if their morphology varies a lot between different species. Yet larvae of all lissamphibians present a set of common characteristics:

  • External gills, thanks to which they can breathe underwater.
  • Absence of eyelids and retinal pigments associated with sight outside of water.
  • Presence of a lateral line (or equivalent), sensorial organ characteristic of fish which allow them to sense vibrations underwater.
  • Thinner skin.
  • Subaquatic anatomic adaptations.
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Photo of a fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) in which the external gills and the pisciform looks of the larva can be appreciated, by David López.

During metamorphosis, most structures useful during the larval stage are reabsorbed through apoptosis, a controlled cell death process. In many cases this process is highly conditioned by various environmental factors such as population density, food availability and the presence of certain chemical substances in water.

HORMONAL CHANGES

At the hormonal level, metamorphosis is characterized by the interaction between two kinds of hormones: thyroid hormones and prolactin. While the thyroid hormones as thyroxin (secreted by the thyroid gland) stimulate the metamorphosis process, prolactin (secreted by the pituitary gland or hypophysis) inhibits it. The concentration of these two hormones (regulated by the Hypothalamus→Hyphophysis→Thyroid) is what controls the different stages of metamorphosis.

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Scheme by Mikael Häggström of the hypothalamus (green), hypophysis or pituitary (red), thyroid (blue) axis in human beings and the release of thyroid hormones.

PREMETAMORPHOSIS

This is the larval growth stage, and it lasts around the first 20 days of life (depending on the species). This stage is characterized by a low secretion of thyroidal hormones and by a high concentration of prolactin that inhibits the metamorphosis process. This is due to the fact that the hypothalamus→hypophysis system is still not mature.

PROMETAMORPHOSIS

It’s a period of reduced growth with slow morphological changes, due to the rise of thyroxin concentration in blood caused by the growth of the thyroid gland. Also, the hypothalamus→hypophysis axis starts developing, which will trigger even more the rise of the thyroxin concentration and will lower the prolactin, giving way to great morphological changes.

METAMORPHOSIS CLIMAX

It’s the point in which the hyothalamus→hypophysis→thyroid axis is at its maximum capacity and it is when great morphological changes happen in the larva, which will end up becoming a miniature adult. Finally, thyroxin levels will start to be restored by a negative feedback system of the thyroxin over the hypothalamus and the hypophysis.

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Scheme from Brown & Cai 2007, about the general levels of thyroid hormones during the different metamorphosis’ stages.

MORPHOLOGICAL CHANGES

During the metamorphosis process, larvae will go through a set of anatomical changes that will allow them to acquire their adult form. Some changes common to most species are the acquisition of eyelids and new retinal pigments, the reabsorption of the gills and the loss of the lateral line. Other morphological changes vary among the different orders. For example in caecilians (order Apoda) larvae already look like miniature adults but with external gills. Also, most caecilians present internal metamorphosis and the hatchlings have no trace of gills.

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Photo from Blog do Nurof-UFC of a caecilian egg, inside which we can see the larva with gills.

In urodeles (order Urodela), the external metamorphic changes aren’t that spectacular either. Larvae are pretty similar to adults, as their limbs develop quickly, although they present external filamentous gills, have no eyelids and present a largely-developed caudal fin. Even their carnivorous diet is similar to that of the adult’s. Yet the great diversity of salamanders and newts gives as a result a great variety of life cycles; from viviparous species that give live birth, to neotenic species that keep larval characteristics through their adult stage.

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Photo by David Alvarez of the viviparous birth of a fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra), and photo by Faldrian of an axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) a neotenic species.

Frogs and toads (order Anura) are the group in which metamorphic changes are more dramatic. The anuran larva is so different that it’s called a tadpole, which differentiates from the adult both by its looks and its physiology and behaviour. Even if tadpoles are born with external gills, these are soon covered by skin folds that form a gill chamber. Also, tadpoles have a round, limbless body and a long, vertically-flattened tail, which allows them to swim swiftly in water.

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Photo by J. J. Harrison of a southern brown tree frog tadpole (Litoria ewingii).

One of the main differences between adult and larval anurans is their diet. While adult frogs and toads are predators, tadpoles are herbivorous larvae, feeding by filtering suspended vegetal particles or by scraping off algae from rocks using a series of keratinous “teeth” present in some species. This is reflected in their spirally-shaped and extremely long digestive system in order to allow them to digest large quantities of vegetal matter. Tadpoles are tireless eating machines, with some filter-feeding species being able to filter eight times their body volume of water per minute.

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Photo by Denise Stanley of a tadpole, in which we can see both the keratinous “teeth”, and the spiral-shaped intestine.

After metamorphosis, tadpoles will reabsorb their gills and tail, their digestive system will shorten, and will develop limbs and lungs, becoming small amphibians prepared for a life on land.

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Recently metamorphosed spiny toad (Bufo spinosus) by David López.

As we have seen, the metamorphosis process varies greatly among the different species of each order. This process results in the fact that that most lissamphibians spend a part of their lives in water and the other on land, a representative fact of the transition of the first tetrapods from the aquatic to the terrestrial medium. Also, the great diversity of ecological niches occupied by both the adults and the larvae of the different species and the wide array of environmental factors that affect the metamorphosis process, make lissamphibians great bioindicators of an ecosystem’s health.

REFERENCES

The following sources have been consulted during the elaboration of this entry:

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Hybrids and sperm thieves: amphibian kleptons

In biology a hybrid is the result of the reproduction of two parents of genetically different species, although in most cases hybrids are either unviable or sterile. Yet in some species of amphibians, sometimes hybrids are not only viable, but also become new species with special characteristics. In this entry we’ll show you two cases of amphibian hybrids that form what is known as a klepton and that make the definition of species a little less clear.

WHAT IS A KLEPTON?

A klepton (abbreviated kl.) is a species which requires another species to complete its reproductive cycle. The origin of the word klepton comes from the Greek word “kleptein” which means “to steal”, as the klepton “steals” from the other species to reproduce. In the case of amphibians, kleptons have originated from hybridation phenomena. The amphibian’s potent sexual pheromones and the multispecies choirs in the case of anurans, causes some males and females of different species to try to mate together. Yet hybrids are only viable between closely related species.

Among the different klepton species we can encounter two different methods depending on the type of conception: zygokleptons, in which there’s fusion between the egg and the sperm’s genetic material, and gynokleptons, in which the egg needs the stimulation from the sperm but doesn’t include its genetic material.

The different amphibian kleptons are usually constituted entirely by females (there are usually few or no males) that use the sperm of another species to perpetuate the klepton. As some kleptons depend on various related species, this can promote the creation of “species complexes” in which various similar species present hybridization areas and very complicated relationships among them. Below you’ll find two klepton examples, one in European anurans and the other in American urodeles.

HYBRIDOGENESIS IN WATER FROGS

The European water frogs (Pelophylax genus) form what is known as a “hybridogenetic complex” in which the hybrids from different species form kleptons which can’t reproduce among each other but, which must reproduce with a member of one of the parental species, “stealing” or “parasitizing” its sperm in order to survive.

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Photo by Bartosz Cuber of two edible frogs (Pelophylax kl. esculentus) in amplexus. This is the best known hybrid both because of its wide distribution, and for being considered a delicacy in France.

In the hybridogenesis of water frogs the genetic material of both parents combines to form the resulting hybrid (zygoklepton). This hybrids (almost always females) will have half their genome from one species and half from the other. Yet, not being able to reproduce with a similar hybrid, during gametogenesis the hybrids eliminate the genetic material from one of the parent species. This way, when reproducing with an individual from the species whose genetic material has been deleted, they will form another hybrid.

Hybirds
Scheme of the genetic composition of the different Pelophylax kleptons. In this hybridogenetic complex four “natural” species intervene: the marsh frog (Pelophylax ridibundus, RR genome), the pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae, LL genome), the Iberian waterfrog (Pelophylax perezi, PP genome)  and the Italian pool frog (Pelophylax bergeri, BB genome).

The edible frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus, RL genome) comes from the hybridization between the marsh frog and the pool frog. The Italian edible frog (Pelophylax kl. hispanicus, RB genome) stems from a hybrid between the marsh frog and the Italian pool frog. Finally, the Graf’s hybrid frog (Pelophylax kl. grafi, RP genome) originated from the hybridization between the edible frog (in which the DNA of the pool frog is eliminated from their gametes) and the Iberian waterfrog.

Hybridogenesiisisisi
Schemes by Darekk2 of the hybridogenetic processes in the different European water frog’s kleptons. The bigger circles represent the individual’s genome and the smaller circles the gametes’ genetic material.

As we can see, the genetic information of the marsh frog is the only one present in all three kleptons. These kleptons delete the genetic material of the species with which they share their habitat from their gametes but keep the genetic material of the marsh frog (R). So for example, the edible frog (P. kl esculentus) deletes form its eggs the DNA of the pool frog (L) with which it encounters and breeds in its natural range, resulting in more edible frogs (RL). The marsh frog seldom reproduces with some of its hybrids and if it does, they produce normal marsh frogs.

SALAMANDERS WITH SEVERAL GENOMES

The salamanders of the Ambystoma genus, usually known as mole salamanders, are a genus endemic of North America and are the only living representatives of the Ambystomatidae family. Five of these species form what is known as the “Ambystoma complex”, in which these species contribute to the genetic composition of a unisexual lineage of salamanders which reproduce by gynogenesis (gynoklepton). Based on the mitochondrial DNA of the unisexual populations, it is thought that this complex originated from a hybridization event of about 2.4-3.9 million years ago.

ambystomert complexx
This complex consists of the five following species: the blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale LL genome, photo by Fyn Kynd Photography), the Jefferson salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum JJ genome, photo by Vermont Biology), the small-mouthed salamander (Ambystoma texanum TT genome, photo by Greg Schechter), the streamside salamander (Ambystoma barbouri BB genome, photo by Michael Anderson) and the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum TiTi genome, photo by Carla Isabel Ribeiro).

In the gynogenesis of this all-female lineage, the egg needs activation by a sperm to start division and development but, it first has to duplicate its genetic material by endomitosis to avoid the formation of an unviable haploid (with half the genetic information) zygote. Yet, as in parthenogenetic reptiles, in the long term the lack of genetic recombination can take its toll on the individuals. That’s why this lineage of unisexual salamanders has the capacity of occasionally incorporating the whole genome from the males of four of the species which constitute the complex (currently the reproduction of streamside salamanders with members of the unisexual lineage hasn’t been documented).

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Scheme from Bi, Bogart & Fu (2009) in which we can see the different paths that the gynogenetic mole salamanders can take while reproducing.

These individuals don’t mix the newly acquired genome, they add it. Therefore, among the members of this lineage we can find diploid, triploid, tetraploid and even pentaploid individuals (even if as the ploidy increases the individuals are less apt to survive) depending on how many different genomes the previous generations had incorporated.

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Among the klepton, the most common genome combination is that of triploids based on the blue-spotted salamander and the Jefferson salamander, with the genomes LLJ (left, image by David Misfud) and JJL (right, image by Nick Scobel), even though the number of combinations is incredibly large. For this reason why scientists haven’t been able to decide a valid scientific name for this group of hybrid origins.

Unlike the water frogs, it is very difficult to define a scientific name for the klepton inside Ambystoma, as the genomes of the different species can be found in different combinations and proportions in different unisexual individuals.

REFERENCES

The following sources have been consulted during the elaboration of this entry:

Difusió-anglès

Open-air concerts: the call of frogs and toads

Well into mid-spring, when the nights get warmer, it’s in the more temperate latitudes where we can start hearing the songs of the frogs. If we get close to any humid area in summer we’ll hear the frog’s and toad’s choirs which sing to attract a mate and proclaim their territories. In this entry we’ll explain the functioning and secrets hidden behind the different calls and songs of the anuran world.

CALL ANATOMY

Anurans are the amphibian order with the greatest vocal abilities. Practically all species make different kinds of calls which they use to communicate and transmit information to their own kind. That’s why frogs and toads have developed a much more specialized vocal systems than the rest of lissamphibians to generate their famous calls.

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New Granada cross-banded tree frog (Smilisca phaeota) in the midst of a call. Photo by Santiago Ron.

Anuran calls originate when the air passes from the lungs through the larynx where the vocal cords are found. Anurans are the only lissamphibians with true vocal cords, while urodeles and caecilians don’t have them. Lissamphibians must pump air to their lungs to breath (although they also breathe through their skin) and in most frogs the call is generated during exhalation.

Fire Bellied Toad
The oriental fire-bellied toad (Bombina orientalis) differs from the rest of anurans in that it emits its call both during exhalation and inhalation. Photo by Flickpicpete.

Most frogs and toads also present vocal sacs that amplify the sound of their calls, some of which can be heard up to one kilometre away. Anurans may have one vocal sac in their throat, or two vocal sacs in the corners of their mouth. To emit their famous calls they must have their mouths and nasal openings closed, to direct the air to the vocal sacs. Even if some species do not have vocal sacs, most species emit calls in some form or another.

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The marsh frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) is an example of a frog with two vocal sacs in the corner of its mouth. Photo by Xavier Robin.

THE REASON WHY THEY SING

Toads and frogs use their calls for one main reason: to mate. In anurans singing is a method to distinguish animals of their own species, to help males and females find each other and to detect receptive individuals. Normally the males are the ones who sing to attract females and that’s why there’s a sexual dimorphism in the vocal sacs, with males having more developed sacs than females and more elaborated calls.

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Even if it’s hard to appreciate, here we can see how in oak toads (Anaxyrus quercicus) the males (left) present a bigger skin fold corresponding to a more developed vocal sac than the females (right). Image by Eric Shashoua.

It is thought that during the evolution of anurans a process of sexual selection has taken place with females selecting the males with the more adequate calls. As a general rule females prefer males with louder and deeper calls. Probably, this is due to the fact that the bigger males (which generally have the deeper voices) are usually the stronger and older ones, indicating that they have been able to survive for a longer time and that they have better genes to transmit to their offspring.

In this video by Pocketbattleship we can hear the song of the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), which is deep and powerful.

Yet there are some species with very high-pitched calls in which the selection by females is focused on other factors. Most anuran females also prefer very frequent (with many repetitions of the sound) and longer calls (long-lasting sounds). This is because singing is a really intense activity that requires a lot of energy, indicating the males that have been able to store enough energy to carry out such an exhausting activity.

The call of the golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis) is really high-pitched and is characterized by its high frequency, as we can see in this video by Mavortium.

The mating season usually comes after some rainy weather in the more arid habitats and during the summer nights in the colder latitudes. Males usually form what we call “choirs” near bodies of water, as it’s in those where mating will take place. Anuran species can be separated into two groups based on their reproduction strategy: explosive breeders and continuous breeders.

Explosive breeders are usually found in dry habitats, where water availability is scarce most of the year. After some heavy rains, males congregate in the recently-formed water zones and form the choirs, singing for one or two nights. In these species females arrive simultaneously. This brings great numbers of males and females to congregate in one night and in the same area and, once the females arrive, the males quit singing and start competing energetically to make sure they mate.

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Couch’s spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus couchii) is a desert living amphibian from the south of the United States, which is characterized by its explosive mating. Image by CaliforniaHerps.

The most complex behaviours occur in species which breed continuously (the majority of the anurans). In these species the breeding season can last for six months and, while males come first to the mating spots and start to form the choirs, females arrive sporadically, mate and then abandon the mating ponds. This implies that when a female arrives there are many males in the mating spot, creating a strong selection of males by the females.

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Common toads (Bufo bufo) are one of the best examples of continuous breeders. Photo by Janek.

Instead of chasing the females like the explosive breeders, these use different calls both to stand out from the rest of the males and therefore be chosen by the females, and to warn male rivals not to approach their territory. Even if usually the males that are able to maintain their territories for the longest time are normally the ones that will have more offspring, there are also are the so-called “satellite males” which instead of singing, stay close to the males with the more powerful calls and intercept the females attracted by them.

A CALL FOR EACH SPECIES

Obviously, the calls also allow the females to differentiate the individuals of their own species from others. This can also help us, as anurans are usually secretive and nocturne animals and their calls allow us to identify which species we have around us, even if darkness covers it all.

Down below we share with you the calls and songs of some anurans from the Iberian Peninsula, in case you go on an evening out, to help you identify the most common toads and frogs you can find in humid zones.

The common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) normally sings at night and on land usually far from water, using underground shelters as echo chambers because, as the rest of midwife toads (Alytes genus), it has no vocal sacs. The call is a clear and flute-like note which is repeated regularly, as we can hear in this video by The Nature Box.

The call of the Iberian spadefoot toad (Pelobates cultripes) is similar to a hen’s cluck. The deep song of the spadefoot toad is usually hard to hear, because this anuran usually sings underwater, although in this video by Versicolora we can hear it pretty well.

The spiny toads (Bufo spinosus) usually sing alone, sporadically and without forming choirs, with their body half-submerged and their head out of the water. The call consists in a series of harsh and pretty high-pitched sounds as we can hear in this recording by Martiño Cabana Otero.

The natterjack toads (Bufo calamita) sing at night, in very shallow waters, with their body pretty upright and inflating their huge vocal sac. Their call is pulsatile, powerful and boomy, and is repeated without rest as we can see in this video by Florian Begou.

The Mediterranean tree frog (Hyla meridionalis) usually sings at dusk and at night, both in water, on land or, as we can see in this video by Pedroluna, perched in the vegetation. The call consists in a single intense, nasal and monotonous note, which is repeated in long and irregular intervals.

Perez’s frogs (Pelophylax perezi) present a wide range of sounds which go from the typical “croak” to a sonorous call similar to a cackle. The choirs of these frogs are usually numerous and really loud, as we can hear in this video by Martiño Cabana Otero.

REFERENCES

The following sources have been consulted during the elaboration of this entry:

Difusió-anglès

Frogs, toads and newts: the last amphibians

With about 7000 living species, amphibians currently occupy almost all the habitats on Earth. While in the last entry we explained the origin of the first tetrapods and how those gave rise to the different groups of primitive amphibians, in this entry we will explain in more detail the characteristics of current amphibians, the so-called lissamphibians.

AMPHIBIANS AND LISSAMPHIBIANS

The term “Lissamphibia” (“smooth amphibian”) is used to name current amphibians and it’s useful to tell them apart from the rest of fossil amphibians, while the term Amphibia (“double life” referring to the aquatic larval stage of most species), is used to name all tetrapods except the amniotes (reptiles, birds and mammals).

Most authors consider lissamphibians a monophyletic group (a group which includes all the descendants of a common ancestor) which includes the different groups of modern amphibians. The main characteristics of this group are:

Dermal characteristics

  • Smooth, scaleless, permeable skin that allows gas exchange (both pulmonary and cutaneous respiration) and the absorption of water (most amphibians usually do not need to drink water). This makes them susceptible to skin infections like the one from the Batrachocytrium dendrobatidis fungus.
FrogSkinSection through frog skin by Jon Houseman. A: Mucous gland, B: Chromophore, C: Granular poison gland, D: Connective tissue, E: Stratum corneum, F: Transition zone, G: Epidermis, and H: Dermis.
  • Two types of skin glands: mucous (the majority, to maintain humidity) and granular (less numerous, secrete toxins of different intensity).

Skeletal characteristics

  • Pedicellate and bicuspid teeth.
teethPhoto of pedicellate teeth, in which the crown and base are made of dentine and are separated by a narrow layer of uncalcified dentine.
  • A pair of occipital condyles.
  • Short, stiff ribs not encircling the body.
  • Four digits on the front limbs and five digits on the hind limbs.
10050622254_8cffbfb0e4_oSkeleton of giant salamander in which we can see some of the characteristics of lissamphibians. Photo by Graham Smith.

Auditory characteristics

  • Papilla amphibiorum, a group of specialized cells in the inner ear which allow them to hear low frequency sounds.
  • Stapes-operculum complex which are in contact with the auditory capsule, improve reception of aerial and seismic waves.

Other characteristics

  • Fat bodies associated with gonads.
  • Presence of green rods in the visual cells (these allow the perception of more colours).
  • Presence of a muscle elevator of the eye (called levator bulbi).
  • Forced-pump ventilation system (their short ribs do not allow pulmonary ventilation, so they pump the air through their mouth).
Two_stroke_buccal_pumpingExplicative diagram about buccal ventilation in lissamphibians, by Mokele.

TAXONOMY AND EVOLUTIONARY THEORIES

Nowadays only three living amphibian orders persist: the order Salientia or Anura (which includes frogs and toads), the order Caudata or Urodela (salamanders and newts) and the order Gymnophiona or Apoda (caecilians). The second name of each order refers to the current species and their recent ancestors, while the first name refers to the whole order since the separation of each order.

There are two hypotheses regarding the relationships between the three orders. The most accepted both by anatomic and molecular analyses is that Salientia and Caudata are grouped together into the clade Batrachia, while the other one is that Caudata and Gymnophiona together form the clade Procera.

Batrachia proceraTwo hypothetical evolutionary trees by Marcello Ruta & Michael I. Coates (2007), showing the Batrachia and Procera hypotheses on the relationships between Salientia (S), Caudata (C) and Gymnophiona (G).

Currently there are three groups of hypotheses of the origin of lissamphibians: the temnospondyl hypotheses, the lepospondyl hypotheses and the polyphyletic hypotheses.

Temnospondyls are the main candidates to be the ancestors of lissamphibians, as they share many characteristics, such as the presence of pedicellated, bicuspid teeth, and short, stiff ribs. Authors defending these theories say that lissamphibians suffered during their evolution a process known as paedomorphosis (retention during the development of juvenile characteristics), this way explaining why temnospondyls reached such large sizes while lissamphibians are much smaller and usually have lighter and less ossified cranial structures.

temnospondyliDrawings from Marcello Ruta & Michael I. Coates (2007) of skeletons belonging to Celteden ibericus (left, a lissamphibian) and Apateon pedestris (right, a temnospondyl) to show similitudes in skeletal structure.

Hypotheses regarding a lepospondyl origin for lissamphibians do not have such a strong support as the temnospondyl hypotheses. However, recently some statistical studies combining anatomic and molecular data have given some support to these hypotheses.

Nevertheless, there is a third group of hypotheses we must consider, the ones that say that lissamphibians are a polyphyletic group (with different origins for the different orders). According to one of these theories, frogs and salamanders (clade Batrachia) would have a temnospondyl origin, while caecilians (order Gymnophiona or Apoda) would have originated from lepospondyl ancestors, many of which had already suffered a limb reduction process.

 Lissamphibian_phylogenyModified outline of the three different hypotheses regarding the origins of the lissamphibians; 1. Lepospondyl origin, 2. Temnospondyl origin, 3. Polyphyletic origin.

Still, most authors support a monophyletic and temnospondyl origin for lissamphibians, but alternative hypotheses shouldn’t be discarded.

SALIENTIA OR ANURA

With up to 4750 species, frogs and toads form the most diverse lissamphibian order. The first known Salientia is Triadobatrachus, which, despite having a tail, already presented some typical characteristics of modern frogs, such as a short spine with few vertebras and the hind limbs longer than the front limbs.

TriadobatrachusInterpretation by Pavel Riha, of the ancient Salientia, Triadobatrachus massinoti.

The anatomy of modern anurans is unique among the animal kingdom. Their skeleton seems totally dedicated to allow these animals to jump (even though many species move simply by walking). Some of their characteristics are:

  • A short and stiff trunk (less than 12 vertebras), an especially long pelvic girdle and the vertebras of their posterior end (that in other amphibians form the tail) are reduced and fused forming the urostyle.
  • Long hind limbs, with the tibia and fibula fused together (to aid in impulse during jumping) and short and strong front limbs (to resist the impact on the landing).
3888291918_f779053a0a_oPhoto of a pig frog (Rana grylio), a typical american anuran.

Also, of all current amphibians frogs are the ones with the most developed hearing apparatus and vocal organ. Males, usually present specialized structures to amplify sound during the mating season.

Litoria_chloris_callingRed eyed tree frog (Litoria chloris) showing the vocal sac, used to amplify the sound of its calls.

Size in anurans varies from 3 kg in weight and 35 centimetres in length of the goliath frog (Conraua goliath) to the 7, 7 millimeters long recently discovered Paedophryne amanuensis, currently the smallest known vertebrate.

Paratype_of_Paedophryne_amauensis_(LSUMZ_95004)Photo from Rittmeyer EN, Allison A, Gründler MC, Thompson DK, Austin CC (2012)  of Paedophryne amanuensis, the smallest known vertebrate in the world on a US dime.

With such a diversity, vital strategies of anurans vary greatly and it’s difficult to generalize on their reproductive biology, even though most show indirect development (born as tadpoles and passing through a metamorphosis process) and they mate and lay their eggs in an aquatic medium.

BufoBufoTadpolesTadpoles of common toad (Bufo bufo) from northern Germany by Christian Fischer.

URODELA OR CAUDATA

The urodeles or caudates are the order of lissamphibians which externally most resemble primitive amphibians. This group includes salamanders and newts, most of which have a long body, a well-developed tail and four relatively short legs. Most urodeles are terrestrial and are distributed mainly in the northern hemisphere, with a few species inhabiting the tropics.

Salamandra_TigrePhoto of an eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) from the House of Sciences, Corunna - Spain. Taken by Carla Isabel Ribeiro.

Most species present internal fertilization and are oviparous. Most also present indirect development (larvae, metamorphosis, adult), and the larvae usually resemble miniaturized adults with external, ramified gills. Various groups of salamanders suffer neoteny phenomenon, in which individuals, even though sexually developing into adults, externally keep larval characteristics.

Joung_and_very_large_larva_of_Salamandra_infraimmaculata,_Ein_Kamon,_IsraelYoung and very large larvae of near eastern fire salamander (Salamandra infraimmaculata), Ein Kamon, Israel. Photo by Ab-Schetui.

Currently, urodeles are classified into three suborders: the Sirenoidea, the Cryptobranchoidea and the Salamandroidea. Sirenoideans are urodeles with both specialized and primitive characteristics, such as the loss of hind limbs and the presence of external gills. Cryptobranchoideans are large primitive salamanders (up to 160 centimetres) which present external fertilization, while salamandroideans are the most numerous group of urodeles (with more than 500 species) and the most diverse, with most species being terrestrial and having internal fertilization using packs of sperm called spermatophores.

20090924201238!P_striatus_USGSPhoto of a northern dwarf siren (Pseudobranchus striatus) a sirenoidean from the United States.

GYMNOPHIONA OR APODA

The most ancient known member of the order Gymnophiona is Eocaecilia micropodia, an amphibian about 15 centimetres long with a considerably long body, a short tail and really small limbs.

Eocaecilia_BWRestoration by Nobu Tamura of Eocaecilia micropodia an ancient Gymnophiona from the early Jurassic.

Current caecilians (order Apoda) have completely lost any trace of limbs, girdles or tail, due to their adaptation to a subterranean lifestyle. That’s why they also suffered a process of cranial hardening and their eyes are extremely reduced. They also present a series of segmentary rings all along their bodies, which make them look somewhat like earthworms.

Ichthyophis kohtaoensis, ca 12Yellow-striped caecilian (Ichthyophis kohtaoensis) from Thailand, by Kerry Matz.

There are currently about 200 species of caecilians divided into 10 families. Their size varies from about 7 centimetres in the species Idiocranium russelli from Cameroon, to up to 1,5 meters of Caecilia thompsoni from Colombia. They present a pantropical distribution, internal fertilization and a great variation in their development (there are viviparous and oviparous species and some which endure metamorphosis while some have direct development).

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto of Gymnopis multiplicata an american caecilian. Photo by Teague O'Mara.

REFERENCES

The following sources have been consulted in the elaboration of this entry:

 Difusió-anglès