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the web of life in southern Africa

Class: Amphibia (frogs, salamanders, newts, caecilians)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates)

Origin of name. Greek: amphi, on both sides; bios, life.

Amphibians are so named because most species live both in water and on land. For instance in frogs, the young stages (tadpoles) live in the water and have gills to breath whereas the adult breaths through its moist skin as well as through lungs and usually lives in and around water. Some of the early amphibians, known only from fossils, had scales but the survivors of the class, all falling in the subclass Lissamphibia, lack scales and are smooth.



# ancestral amphibians

These taxa are all known only from fossils and include Lysorophia (sister-group to living amphibians), Microsauria, Nectridea, Aistopoda and Adelogyrinidae.


Living amphibians



Anura (frogs and toads)

[= Salientia]


Urodela (newts, salamanders, mudpuppies, etc.)

[= Caudata]

Not found naturally in southern Africa.


Order: Gymnophiona (caecilians)

Not found naturally in southern Africa.



  • Amphibiaweb. Contains a searchable database on amphibian species of the world (incomplete but useful). Useful discussion on causes of worldwide amphibian decline. Check under Resources for  links to other useful amphibian sites. 

  • Tree of Life: Living Amphibians

Text and photos by Hamish Robertson.