Fetal adaptations for viviparity in amphibians

J Morphol. 2015 Aug;276(8):941-60. doi: 10.1002/jmor.20271. Epub 2014 Mar 19.


Live-bearing has evolved in all three orders of amphibians--frogs, salamanders, and caecilians. Developing young may be either yolk dependent, or maternal nutrients may be supplied after yolk is resorbed, depending on the species. Among frogs, embryos in two distantly related lineages develop in the skin of the maternal parents' backs; they are born either as advanced larvae or fully metamorphosed froglets, depending on the species. In other frogs, and in salamanders and caecilians, viviparity is intraoviductal; one lineage of salamanders includes species that are yolk dependent and born either as larvae or metamorphs, or that practice cannibalism and are born as metamorphs. Live-bearing caecilians all, so far as is known, exhaust yolk before hatching and mothers provide nutrients during the rest of the relatively long gestation period. The developing young that have maternal nutrition have a number of heterochronic changes, such as precocious development of the feeding apparatus and the gut. Furthermore, several of the fetal adaptations, such as a specialized dentition and a prolonged metamorphosis, are homoplasious and present in members of two or all three of the amphibian orders. At the same time, we know little about the developmental and functional bases for fetal adaptations, and less about the factors that drive their evolution and facilitate their maintenance.

Keywords: amphibians; fetus; viviparity/live-bearing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Amphibians / embryology
  • Amphibians / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Viviparity, Nonmammalian*