Terrestrial vertebrates are commonplace, distributed across the globe even though vertebrates, as a whole, make up a fraction of animal diversity. Other than that they’re land-based animals with vertebral columns (spines or backbones) they’re also characterised by their well-defined joints and digits (fingers and toes). In scientific jargon, terrestrial vertebrates are known as Tetrapoda, in reference to these limbs. While the broad definition of terrestrial vertebrates clearly excludes fish, for example, it also incorporates birds.
The origins of tetrapods are still hotly debated, as are the processes that let to their move from water to land. Nonetheless, this group includes over 21,000 extant (living) species and, it is believed, a much greater number of extinct species. At the Iziko South African Museum, the Terrestrial Vertebrate Collections attempts to cast some light into the questions still being asked about this group of animals.
The focus of the Museum’s Natural History Collections – of which this collection forms a part – is on southern Africa. So it includes, for example, historically important bird and mammal skin collections dating back to the 1850’s, specifically from this region. The latter features the foal of the extinct Quagga. Recent growth of the collections has centred on building up skeletal collections of birds and mammals, which are the best in South Africa. All the bird, amphibian, reptile and mammal collections have been digitised.