Biology (BIOL) 320

Comparative Anatomy of the Vertebrates (Revision 2)

BIOL 320

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Delivery Mode: Individualized study online with a mandatory four-day supervised lab component

BIOL 320 lab exemption

Check dates and locations of supervised lab prior to registering for the course. This course is charged a lab fee.

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Science

Prerequisite: BIOL 204 or BIOL 205, or BIOL 235 or 3 credits in science completed at a recognized post-secondary institution and the course coordinator approval.

Faculty: Faculty of Science & Technology

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This course covers all major aspects of the anatomy of the vertebrates, including basic comparative anatomy.


  • Unit 1: The Science of Comparative Anatomy and Vertebrate Relationships
  • Unit 2: Craniate Types, Phylogeny, and Morphogenesis
  • Unit 3: The Integument and Its Derivatives
  • Unit 4: The Skeleton
  • Unit 5: The Muscular System and Electric Organs
  • Unit 6: Coelom and Mesenteries
  • Unit 7: The Digestive System
  • Unit 8: The Respiratory System and Gas Bladder
  • Unit 9: The Circulatory System
  • Unit 10: The Urogenital System
  • Unit 11: The Nervous System
  • Unit 12: Sensory and Endocrine Organs

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to

  1. Correctly apply and define scientific terminology used in the context of vertebrate anatomy.
  2. Identify the anatomical features that distinguish vertebrate from invertebrate systems.
  3. Recognize vertebrate structural principles by studying all body systems of vertebrates in an evolutionary context.
  4. Compare and contrast the anatomical systems of different vertebrates and identify common traits across species and/or groups.
  5. Develop practical dissection skills on vertebrate cadavers that allow for identification of morphological features and effective collection and preparation of animal tissue specimens.


To receive credit for BIOL 320, you must achieve a minimum grade of 60 percent on the laboratory evaluation, a grade of at least 50 percent on the final examination, and a course composite grade of at least D (50 percent). The weighting of the composite grade is as follows:

Activity Weighting
Assignment 1 10%
Assignment 2 10%
Laboratory Evaluation 20%
Midterm Exam 20%
Final Exam 40%
Total 100%

The midterm and final examinations for this course must be taken online with an AU-approved exam invigilator at an approved invigilation centre. It is your responsibility to ensure your chosen invigilation centre can accommodate online exams. For a list of invigilators who can accommodate online exams, visit the Exam Invigilation Network.

To learn more about assignments and examinations, please refer to Athabasca University's online Calendar.

Course Materials


Hildebrand, M., & G. Goslow. (2001). Analysis of vertebrate structure (5th ed.). New York: Wiley.

Other Materials

All AU Course Materials are available online; however, they can be provided in print by special request.

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 2, May 5, 2016.

View previous syllabus