The UNSW Vertebrate Zoology (BIOS2061) course examines the evolution, diversity and natural history of animals with a special emphasis on how they cope with Australia’s environment. Australia has a high diversity of vertebrate species including platypus, tree frogs, parrots and snakes. The course will take you on a detailed investigation into these vertebrate groups, with a focus on their anatomy, morphology, ecology, life history and emerging conservation issues.

Students enrolled in this course will explore the evolutionary origins and relationships between the major groups of vertebrates, learning about their diversity of form, function and behaviour. Topics covered include the following:

  • the rise and diversification of the hagfish and lamprey
  • sharks and rays
  • bony fish
  • frogs and salamanders
  • lizards, snakes and turtles
  • crocodiles
  • dinosaurs and birds
  • mammals, including humans.

Term offering

Term 2

Course attendance

In person


Undergraduate - Second Year



Course code


Course breakdown

The course aims to achieve the following:

  1. To impart a fundamental understanding of the evolution and diversity of organisms classified as vertebrates (Phylum Chordata).
  2. To teach students the origins of the major features of vertebrates.
  3. To introduce the principles of taxonomy in the classification of living organisms.
  4. To demonstrate the major conservation issues facing vertebrate life with an emphasis on Australian fauna.

At the end of the course, students should:

  1. Understand the evolutionary interrelationships between the major groups within the Phylum Chordata.
  2. Identify and distinguish among different vertebrate taxa.
  3. Understand current thinking on the origins of the major features defining the major lineages.
  4. Understand the major issues in the conservation of Australia's vertebrates.

Conditions for enrolment 

In line with school policy, there are no formal pre-requisites. This course allows students to draw on material that you have learned in various first-year biological subjects and apply this to understanding vertebrate life. In your second year, useful companion subjects include Evolutionary and Physiological Ecology (BIOS2011)Biology of Invertebrates (BIOS2031), and Flowering Plants (BIOS2051). This course is assumed knowledge for Advanced Field Biology (BIOS3601).

Career opportunities

Careers in zoology can include working in animal care, zoos, animal parks, veterinary nursing and aquaculture. If you have good communication skills, you can expand your horizons and work as teacher in schools, museums and nature centres. Zoologists are employed by co-operatives, federal and state agencies, local government, businesses, nonprofit organisations and universities.

Relevant roles

  • Zoologist
  • Ecologist
  • Marine biologist
  • Consultant or advisor
  • Teacher

What our graduates say

"I really enjoyed Vertebrate Zoology as it offered a wonderful insight into the evolutionary history of vertebrates, particularly in Australia. The subject integrated theory, lab work and fieldwork, which really brought the content of the course together nicely. The course was supported by a cast of exceptional lecturers and tutors. Anyone interested in vertebrates or evolution, or simply looking for an interesting course on animals ,would find this course really valuable, interesting and enjoyable."

- Simon Gorta, Vertebrate Zoology graduate.

Find out more

For more information, please contact Prof. Michael Archer.

E: m.archer@unsw.edu.au

T: +61 2 9385 3446