Vertebrates (/ - /,) comprise all animal taxa within the subphylum Vertebrata (//) (chordates with backbones), including all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Vertebrates represent the overwhelming majority of the phylum Chordata, with currently about 69,963 species described. Vertebrates comprise such groups as the following:
- jawless fish, which include hagfish and lampreys
- jawed vertebrates, which include:
|Example of vertebrates: Acipenser oxyrinchus (Actinopterygii), an African bush elephant (Tetrapoda), a Tiger shark (Chondrichthyes) and a River lamprey (Agnatha).|
J-B. Lamarck, 1801
Extant vertebrates range in size from the frog species Paedophryne amauensis, at as little as 7.7 mm (0.30 in), to the blue whale, at up to 33 m (108 ft). Vertebrates make up less than five percent of all described animal species; the rest are invertebrates, which lack vertebral columns.
The vertebrates traditionally include the hagfish, which do not have proper vertebrae due to their loss in evolution, though their closest living relatives, the lampreys, do. Hagfish do, however, possess a cranium. For this reason, the vertebrate subphylum is sometimes referred to as "Craniata" when discussing morphology. Molecular analysis since 1992 has suggested that hagfish are most closely related to lampreys, and so also are vertebrates in a monophyletic sense. Others consider them a sister group of vertebrates in the common taxon of craniata.