Characteristics of Amphibians

As tetrapods, most amphibians are characterized by four well-developed limbs. In some species of salamanders, hindlimbs are reduced or absent, but all caecilians are (secondarily) limbless. An important characteristic of extant amphibians is a moist, permeable skin that is achieved via mucus glands. Most water is taken in across the skin rather than by drinking. The skin is also one of three respiratory surfaces used by amphibians. The other two are the lungs and the buccal (mouth) cavity. Air is taken first into the mouth through the nostrils, and then pushed by positive pressure into the lungs by elevating the throat and closing the nostrils.

All extant adult amphibians are carnivorous, and some terrestrial amphibians have a sticky tongue used to capture prey. Amphibians also have multiple small teeth at the edge of the jaws. In salamanders and caecilians, teeth are present in both jaws, sometimes in multiple rows. In frogs and toads, teeth are seen only in the upper jaw. Additional teeth, called vomerine teeth, may be found in the roof of the mouth. Amphibian teeth are pedicellate, which means that the root and crown are calcified, separated by a zone of noncalcified tissue.

Amphibians have image-forming eyes and color vision. Ears are best developed in frogs and toads, which vocalize to communicate. Frogs use separate regions of the inner ear for detecting higher and lower sounds: the papilla amphibiorum, which is sensitive to frequencies below 10,000 hertz and unique to amphibians, and the papilla basilaris, which is sensitive to higher frequencies, including mating calls, transmitted from the eardrum through the stapes bone. Amphibians also have an extra bone in the ear, the operculum, which transmits low-frequency vibrations from the forelimbs and shoulders to the inner ear, and may be used for the detection of seismic signals.