Invertebrates vs. Vertebrates: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rachel Torrens
In this lesson, learn what makes a vertebrate animal different from an invertebrate animal. In addition to definitions, examples of each animal type are provided.

Finding Your Backbone

Stand up, bend over and try to touch your toes with your fingertips. Then, use one hand to reach up and feel along the middle of your back. You may need to press down a little, but you should feel a series of bumps that extend from your lower back all the way up to your neck! What are these bumps?

Well, commonly these bumps are referred to as your 'backbone'. However, scientists refer to it as your spine. Your backbone, or spine, is actually a series of disc-shaped bones that are connected together. Each bump you felt on your back represents one of these discs, which are referred to as vertebrae. To be precise, you have 33 vertebrae in your spine.

The human spine is made of 33 vertebrae.
Spine image

An animal that has an internal skeleton made of vertebrae is known as a vertebrate, which makes a lot of sense! So you, as a human, are an example of a vertebrate animal. What other types of animals are vertebrates?

There are five animal classes that are vertebrates:

  1. amphibians, such as frogs and newts
  2. fishes, such as tuna and sharks
  3. reptiles, such as snakes and alligators
  4. birds, such as parrots and penguins
  5. mammals, such as monkeys and dolphins

Despite their ability to tightly coil, snakes are vertebrate animals.
Snake image

Not all vertebrates have the same number of vertebrae. Remember, a human has 33 vertebrae, but an alligator has about 66 vertebrae, and a snake can have as many as 500 vertebrae! Now, it's time to explore some animals that don't have any vertebrae at all.

Animals Without a Spine

Invertebrates are animals without a spine, meaning they have no vertebrae. This type of animal may sound fancy, but most likely you've already seen hundreds in your lifetime. Anytime you've played outside and seen an insect, you've observed an invertebrate animal!

There are many different types of invertebrates. Each type of invertebrate has its own unique features, but none of these animals has a backbone.  Some examples of invertebrates include:

  • insects
  • spiders
  • worms
  • sponges and jellyfish
  • sea stars and sea urchins
  • squids and octopi
  • crabs, shrimps and lobsters

The ocean is full of invertebrates, such as the jellyfish.
Jellyfish image

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