Text Book of Biology, Part 1: Vertebrata Informative Summary


This 1892 text, “Text Book of Biology, Part 1: Vertebrata,” written by H.G. Wells, provides a comprehensive overview of vertebrate anatomy and physiology through a comparative analysis of four distinct types: the rabbit, frog, dogfish, and Amphioxus. The book emphasizes the importance of practical dissection and observation, serving as a guide for solitary learners studying biology. Wells meticulously describes the internal structure of these animals, tracing their commonalities and differences to illuminate the evolutionary relationships between them.

The text also delves into the developmental processes of these animals, highlighting the role of yolk in influencing developmental stages. By studying the embryonic development of the frog, fowl, and rabbit, Wells provides compelling evidence for the theory of evolution, suggesting that similarities in structure point towards a common ancestor.

Key Findings:

  • Comparative Anatomy: The book’s strength lies in its comparative approach, illustrating how different species share fundamental anatomical structures, but with varying levels of complexity and adaptation. This reinforces the concept of a common ancestor for all vertebrates.
  • Evolutionary Relationships: The text highlights the evolutionary trajectory of vertebrates, proposing that simpler forms like the dogfish predate more complex forms like the rabbit. This aligns with the fossil record, further supporting the idea of common ancestry and gradual change.
  • Importance of Dissection: Wells strongly advocates for hands-on learning, emphasizing the importance of practical dissection for a deeper understanding of anatomy.


  • Vertebrate Anatomy: The reader will gain an in-depth understanding of the internal structures of the rabbit, frog, dogfish, and Amphioxus. This includes detailed knowledge of their circulatory, digestive, nervous, respiratory, renal, and reproductive systems.
  • Comparative Morphology: By comparing the anatomy of these different species, the reader will develop a strong foundation in comparative morphology, a fundamental concept in biology.
  • Embryological Development: The text explains the key stages of embryonic development in various species, highlighting the role of yolk in influencing segmentation and the formation of embryonic tissues.
  • Evolutionary Theory: The reader will learn about the theory of evolution, understanding how natural selection leads to gradual changes in species over time based on variations in traits and the survival of the fittest.
  • Importance of Practical Work: The reader will gain a deep appreciation for the crucial role of hands-on learning in biological studies, understanding that practical dissection is essential for confirming and extending knowledge gained through reading.

Historical Context:

The book was published in 1892, a time of great scientific advancement in biology. Darwin’s theory of evolution had gained widespread acceptance, and the field of embryology was rapidly expanding. This historical context is evident in Wells’ focus on comparative anatomy, embryology, and the theory of evolution.


  • Placoid Scales: These scales, found in dogfish, consist of a bony base with a dentine tubercle covered by enamel. They are homologous to teeth, demonstrating a connection between external armor and internal teeth.
  • Spiral Valve: The dogfish’s spiral valve serves as its primary organ for absorbing nutrients, representing a simplified version of the small intestine.
  • Amphi-coelous Vertebrae: Dogfish vertebrae are hollowed at both ends, with the notochord persisting between the centra.
  • Notochord: This gelatinous rod is the precursor of the vertebral column in all vertebrates, but in most species, it is replaced by vertebrae during development.
  • Myomeres: These V-shaped muscle segments are found in dogfish, frog, and mammals, though they become less pronounced in higher species.
  • Ciliated Epithelium: This type of epithelium, featuring hair-like cilia that move in one direction, is found in various organs of the frog, aiding in the movement of fluids within ducts.
  • Kidney Structure: In the frog, the kidney has a triple vascular system consisting of nutritive arteries, afferent veins, and efferent veins, suggesting a possible role in additional functions beyond excretion.
  • Renal Portal System: The frog has a renal portal system, where blood from the hind limbs either flows to the liver through the portal vein or directly to the kidney via the renal portal vein.
  • Haversian Systems: These systems in bone consist of concentric layers of bone matrix and bone corpuscles arranged around a Haversian canal containing a blood vessel.
  • Botryoidal Tissue: This tissue, found in various locations in the rabbit’s digestive tract, contains phagocytes, cells that engulf bacteria to protect against disease.
  • Phagocytes: These cells, also found in blood as white corpuscles, are capable of independent movement and play a vital role in absorption and engulfing foreign bodies.
  • Placenta: This structure in rabbits arises from the intermingling of maternal and fetal tissue, facilitating the exchange of nutrients and oxygen from mother to fetus.
  • Amnion: This membrane develops around the embryo, forming an amniotic cavity filled with fluid, providing a protective environment for the developing organism.
  • Allantois: This sac develops from the hindgut and serves as a respiratory organ in birds and reptiles, absorbing oxygen through the eggshell.
  • Pineal Gland: This structure in the brain, possibly a vestige of a third eye in ancient vertebrates, has a particularly eye-like form in some reptiles.
  • Eye Development: The eye develops from an outgrowing vesicle from the brain, which forms the retina, and an inward growth from the epidermis, which becomes the lens.
  • Sense Tubes: These sensory structures, found in dogfish and other aquatic forms, suggest an unknown sense, likely related to aquatic environments.
  • Lateral Line: A line of sensory organs found in dogfish and tadpoles, connected to the tenth cranial nerve, possibly involved in detecting vibrations or pressure changes in water.
  • Hypoblast: This inner germ layer during embryonic development gives rise to the lining of the digestive tract and its glands.
  • Mesoblast: This middle germ layer gives rise to a wide array of tissues, including muscle, connective tissue, bone, and blood.
  • Epiblast: This outer germ layer gives rise to the epidermis, nervous system, and sensory organs.
  • Segmentation Cavity: This fluid-filled cavity forms during embryonic development and is eventually obliterated by the growing mesoblastic somites.
  • Primitive Streak: This thickening in the blastoderm of birds and mammals represents the closed blastopore, marking a crucial stage in development.
  • Yolk: This non-living nutrient material is found in the eggs of various species, influencing the type of segmentation and the development of embryonic tissues.
  • Telolecithal Ova: Ova where the yolk is concentrated towards the vegetal pole, such as in frogs, resulting in unequal segmentation.
  • Alecithal Ova: Ova practically free from yolk, like in rabbits, leading to complete and almost equal segmentation.
  • Meroblastic Segmentation: Segmentation in which only a portion of the ovum segments, as in birds, due to the presence of abundant yolk.


  • Vertebrae: The rabbit’s vertebral column consists of 31 vertebrae, with 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 7 lumbar, 4 sacral, and 15 caudal.
  • Teeth: The dog has a dental formula of I. 3.3/3.3, C. 1.1/1.1, P.M. 4.4/4.4, M. 2.2/3.3, indicating the number of incisors, canines, premolars, and molars on each jaw.
  • Gill Slits: The dogfish has 5 gill slits, with the sixth slit being modified into the spiracle.
  • Cranial Nerves: The rabbit has 12 pairs of cranial nerves, originating from the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. The dogfish has 10 pairs, corresponding to the anterior 10 in the rabbit.
  • Branchial Arches: The frog has 4 branchial arches, with the hyoid arch in front, and 4 gill slits. The dogfish has 5 branchial arches, with 5 gill slits.
  • Myomeres: The dogfish has V-shaped myomeres, alternating with the vertebrae.
  • Branchial Canals: In Amphioxus, the branchial canals are located in the bars between the gill slits, separated from the atrial cavity by a thin membrane.
  • Mesoblastic Somites: In the frog, the mesoblastic somites, derived from the archenteron wall, fill up the segmentation cavity and eventually split into somatopleur and splanchnopleur.
  • Aortic Arches: The fowl develops 5 aortic arches, with the third becoming the carotid artery, the second the aortic arch, and the fourth, the pulmonary artery.


  • Anterior: The head end of an animal.
  • Posterior: The tail end of an animal.
  • Dorsal: The back side of an animal.
  • Ventral: The belly side of an animal.
  • Median: The midline of an animal, dividing it into symmetrical halves.
  • Lateral: The sides of an animal.
  • Proximal: The part of a limb closest to the body.
  • Distal: The part of a limb farthest from the body.
  • Metamerism: The repetition of similar segments along the axis of the body, as seen in the vertebrae and spinal nerves.
  • Antimerism: The repetition of similar parts radiating from a central point, as seen in starfish.
  • Homology: The similarity in origin and position of structures in different animals, indicating evolutionary relationship.
  • Serial Homology: The resemblance between similar structures in a series along the body, such as the limbs.
  • Vestigial Structure: A structure that has lost its original function and has become reduced, indicating evolutionary change.
  • Epithelium: A thin layer of cells lining the surface of organs and cavities.
  • Connective Tissue: A type of tissue that binds, supports, and protects other tissues.
  • Muscle: Tissue composed of contractile fibers responsible for movement.
  • Nerve: Tissue composed of nerve cells and fibers that transmit electrical signals throughout the body.
  • Ganglion: A collection of nerve cell bodies outside the central nervous system.
  • Notochord: A flexible rod of gelatinous tissue that serves as the central axis of the vertebral column in early development.
  • Afferent: Conducting impulses toward the central nervous system.
  • Efferent: Conducting impulses away from the central nervous system.
  • Kataboly: The breakdown of complex molecules, releasing energy.
  • Anaboly: The synthesis of complex molecules, requiring energy.
  • Ferment: An organic catalyst that speeds up chemical reactions in the body.
  • Secretion: A substance produced by a gland and released into a duct or directly into the bloodstream.
  • Excretion: The elimination of waste products from the body.
  • Metamorphosis: A developmental process involving significant changes in form and structure, as seen in the frog.
  • Dioecious: Having separate male and female individuals.
  • Hermaphrodism: Having both male and female reproductive organs.
  • Yolk: A nutrient-rich substance stored in eggs.
  • Telolecithal: An egg with yolk concentrated towards one end.
  • Alecithal: An egg with little or no yolk.
  • Meroblastic Segmentation: Segmentation in which only a part of the ovum divides.
  • Blastosphere: A hollow sphere of cells formed during early development.
  • Blastopore: The opening of the archenteron during gastrulation.
  • Gastrula: A two-layered embryonic stage with a primitive gut.
  • Archenteron: The primitive gut in a gastrula.
  • Epiblast: The outer layer of cells in a gastrula.
  • Hypoblast: The inner layer of cells in a gastrula.
  • Mesoblast: The middle layer of cells in a gastrula, which gives rise to various tissues.
  • Somatopleur: The outer layer of mesoblast, contributing to the formation of the body wall and its derivatives.
  • Splanchnopleur: The inner layer of mesoblast, forming the lining of the digestive tract and its associated structures.
  • Coelom: The body cavity between the digestive tract and the body wall.
  • Amnion: A membrane that surrounds the embryo, forming the amniotic cavity.
  • Allantois: A sac that develops from the hindgut, serving as a respiratory organ in birds and reptiles.
  • Placenta: A structure formed by the intermingling of maternal and fetal tissues, facilitating the exchange of nutrients and oxygen.
  • Stomodaeum: An inward fold of epiblast that forms the mouth.
  • Proctodaeum: An inward fold of epiblast that forms the anus.
  • Evolution: The gradual change in the characteristics of a species over time, driven by natural selection.
  • Natural Selection: The process by which individuals with traits that are better suited to their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce.
  • Variation: Differences in traits among individuals within a species.
  • Inheritance: The passing of traits from parents to offspring.


  • Rabbit’s Tail: The rabbit’s white underside serves as a signal to its young to warn them of danger, demonstrating a sacrifice made by the individual for the benefit of its species.
  • Frog’s Tongue: The frog’s forked tongue, attached in front of the lower jaw, is adapted for rapid capture of insects, showcasing a specialization in diet.
  • Dogfish’s Placoid Scales: These scales, covering the entire body of the dogfish, demonstrate a transition from external teeth to internal ones, highlighting a change in protective strategies.
  • Amphioxus’s Atrial Cavity: This structure, surrounding the pharynx, is unique to Amphioxus, highlighting its deviation from the typical vertebrate body plan.
  • Frog’s Operculum: This flap of skin grows back to enclose the gills in the tadpole, illustrating the development of a gill chamber, a transition from external gills to internal gills.
  • Frog’s Tadpole: The tadpole’s purely vegetable diet necessitates a longer and more complex intestine for food digestion.
  • Fowl’s Egg: The fowl’s egg with its enormous yolk influences the type of segmentation and the development of a yolk sac and allantois, highlighting the adaptation to a more complex reproductive strategy.
  • Rabbit’s Placenta: The rabbit’s placenta, formed by the union of maternal and fetal tissue, demonstrates a more advanced method of nutrition and oxygen exchange.
  • Deer and Tiger: The adaptations of deer for alertness and swiftness in avoiding tigers and the tiger’s adaptations for stealth and powerful hunting abilities demonstrate the co-evolutionary process between predator and prey.


“Text Book of Biology, Part 1: Vertebrata” provides a comprehensive and engaging introduction to vertebrate anatomy and evolution. By meticulously comparing the structures of four distinct types—the rabbit, frog, dogfish, and Amphioxus—Wells demonstrates the remarkable unity underlying the diversity of life. The emphasis on practical dissection and the exploration of embryonic development offer valuable insights into the evolutionary relationships among vertebrates and the mechanisms that drive adaptation and change.

This text serves as an invaluable resource for both students and anyone curious about the intricate workings of the animal kingdom. By understanding the similarities and differences between these diverse organisms, the reader gains a profound appreciation for the evolutionary journey that has shaped life on Earth and the remarkable interconnections within the web of life.

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