Vertebrate Zoololgy online course. Study at home by distance learning correspondence. Learn about the structure and function of different animal families.

Course Code: BEN104
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Open Learning Course in Zoology

ACS Student Comment: I am thoroughly enjoying the Vertebrate Zoology course with ACS. Dr. Browne has been a wonderful tutor and has given clear, concise and constructive feedback on each of the assignments I have submitted. The structure of the course allows you to independently research topics guided by module notes, set tasks and assignment questions. The more you put into this course the more you take away. I love the suggestions of where and how to do the set tasks. Dissecting a grey mullet for Assignment 2 was thus far the best part of the course – while it is only suggested to approach in this manner you should consider making it a requirement of the module. I was able to coordinate with a local fisherman in association with a fish monger - they happily caught and presented me with a beautiful specimen. After dissection it made a great meal for my four legged friends (Nothing wasted and absolutely ethical! :). The hands-on approach enabled me to get a very comprehensive understanding of the anatomy of a fish. The gizzard of the grey mullet was a bonus and had I not dissected - I would not have been able to fully appreciate the complex digestive system of this omnivorous fish. Today I’m off to the Eagles Flying raptor research center to meet with the biologist who runs the center – he’s allowing me to spend the day observing barn owls for my current module. Yet, another brilliant experience thanks to my enrolment at ACS. Jessica, Vertebrate Zoology course.

During your studies you will learn with the help of highly qualified and experienced tutors.

The course is accepted by some professional associations as points for their Continuing Education Recording Scheme, category “Correspondence courses”.


The course is divided into ten lessons as follows:

 Vertebrate Taxonomy and Diversity - Morphology and Evolution, Environmental and Genetic Influences, Speciation, Diversification, Convergence, Diet, Habits, Distribution, Terminology

  1. Fishes - Class Agnatha, Class Chondrichthyes, Class Osteichthyes
  2. Ectotherms: Amphibians and Reptiles - Definitions, Class Amphibia, Frogs and Toads, Salamanders and Newts, Caecilians; Class Reptilia, Tuatara, Turtles, tortoises, Crocodilians, Lizards and Snakes
  3. Birds - Taxonomy, Ratitae Birds, Carinatea, Water Birds, Predatory Birds, Poultry Birds, Rails, Coots and Cranes, Pigeons, Gulls, Plovers, Parrots, Hummingbirds, Perching Birds and Diving Birds and much more.
  4. Overview of Mammals - Taxonomy, Prototheria, Metatheria and Eutheria
  5. Marsupials - Kangaroos, Koalas, Wombats, Bandicoots, Opossums, Phalangers, Marsupial Physiology, Locomotion and Reproduction
  6. Mammalian Glires and Insectivora - Rodents, Rabbits, Pikas, Hedgehogs, Moles, Shrews and Tenrecs, Taxonomy, Structure and Adaptations.
  7. Carnivores - Dogs, Wolves, Bears, Racoons, Cats, Weasels, Hyenas, Seals, Sea Lions and Walruses, Taxonomy, Physiology and Adaptations
  8. Hooved Mammals: Ungulata - Hippoptamus, Deer, Giraffe, Antelope, Cetaceans, Horse, Rhinoceros, Tapir, Ardvarks, Hyrax, Elephant, Manatee and Dugong.
  9. Primates and other Archonta - Tree Shrews, Flying Lemurs, Colugos, Bats and Primates.



Upon completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Distinguish between major groups of vertebrates through a demonstrated understanding of their taxonomic classification and diversity.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of all major groups of fishes. 
  • To describe the distinguishing characteristics of all major groups of Ectotherms, Amphibians and Reptiles.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of major groups of birds
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of all major groups of Mammals.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals in the order Marsupialia and compare mammalian specialisations with those of other vertebrates.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals within the grandorders Glires and Insectivora.  Explain Ectothermy in a variety of different animals.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals within the order Carnivora.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals within the grand order Ungulata.
  • Describe the distinguishing characteristics of animals within the grandorder Archonta.


During this course, the student will carry out the following activities.  Where a student’s mobility is limited or there is a lack of facilities in the student’s home locality, an equivalent activity will be offered:

  • Visit a Zoo, Wildlife Park or even a Pet Shop.  Observe the range of animals present and report on them.
  • Visit an aquarium supply shop, marine park, fish retailer, or other facility where you can observe fish.  If your mobility is restricted or you are unable to locate such a facility, look at the web site of an aquarium, and see what diversity of animals is to be seen on that web site.  Identify animals from different orders and report on them.
  • Research the anatomical characteristics of one species of fish
  • Investigate the biological characteristics of one species of amphibian
  • Investigate the biological characteristics of one species of reptile
  • Research the biological characteristics of one species of bird
  • Observe the behaviour of a bird or birds for 1 hour (in the wild, or captivity).  Take notes
  • Investigate the biological characteristics of one species of mammal.
  • Research a particular family or genus of marsupial.
  • Visit either a pet shop or zoo and observe any animals from the Glires or Insectivora that you find there.
  • Observe a dog closely.  Take note of its external features in the light of the things you have learned in this lesson. Notice the shape of the head, body and legs, the characteristics of the feet, etc.  Make notes on your observations.  Compile a scientific description of the anatomy of the dog you observed.  Where possible, use technical terminology that you have learned during your course.
  • Visit a farm, pet shop or zoo and observe any animals belonging to the grandorder Ungulata that you find there.  Make a list of these animals.
  • Research an order, family, genus or species of hooved Mammal (Ungulata).
  • Try to find out about the characteristics of your chosen group
  • Try to observe some monkeys and/or apes.  You might do this by visiting a zoo, watching a video or looking on the Internet.  Make notes of any similarities and dissimilarities you observe between these animals and humans.  Research their physical and behavioural characteristics with a view to comparing these with human characteristics
  • SPECIAL RESEARCH PROJECT: Prepare a report on the relationship between environmental conditions and mammalian evolution.


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