Vertebrate BasicsVertebrates are the most advanced organisms on Earth. The traits that make all of the animals in this section special are their spinal cords, vertebrae, and notochords. It's all about having a series of nerves along your back (dorsal side). If you are an organism, you can't just have the nerves sitting there. You need to give those nerves support and protection. That need brings us to the backbones and a rod of cartilage called the notochord.
Not So Many SpeciesFifty thousand species might seem like a lot. Compared to the invertebrates, there are not that many species of vertebrates. You might be asking why. One reason is that vertebrates are usually larger than invertebrates. They need more space. Another reason is that, even though they are more advanced, there are many limitations on the environments that are available to them.
Think about it this way. If you are smart mammal, would you rather live near the ocean or in the frozen tundra of the arctic? Many land animals can make that decision and move to more desirable areas for living. Those nicer areas can only support so many species of animals.
They've Got The BrainsVertebrates are smart. Some of them are very smart. We mean you. Most vertebrates have very advanced nervous systems. While a goldfish might not compare to your intelligence, when you compare a goldfish to a sea anemone, a goldfish is like Einstein. Octopi are probably the smartest invertebrates and may equal or be smarter than some vertebrates. Octopi are the exception in the invertebrate category.
More cool traits about vertebrates are that they have muscles and skeletons. While the materials may vary, muscles allow vertebrates to move around very efficiently and perform complex moves. That ability to move and the intelligence to go with it gives vertebrates such as reptiles and birds an advantage in the natural world.
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Shark Conservation (NOAA Fisheries Video)
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