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Difference Between Vertebrates and Invertebrates


Vertebrates and invertebrates are one of the parameters of the classification of animals and help us study their characteristics in-depth. This categorization is based on the presence or absence of vertebrae, also known as the spinal cord or backbone. Animals that possess the spinal cord are called vertebrates, such as humans, whereas those without a backbone are named invertebrates like worms. Besides the backbone, there are numerous other differences between vertebrates and invertebrates as well. Let’s talk about their unique characteristics in detail.

Comparison Table

Spinal CordPresentAbsent
ClassificationMammals, birds, fish,
amphibians, & reptiles
Sponges, jellyfish, crabs,
mollusks, insects, etc.
SymmetryBilateralBilateral, radial
Internal AnatomySpecialized systemsUn-specialized systems
Circulatory SystemClosedOpen
Nervous SystemComplexSimple
SkinTwo-layersSingle layer
Compound EyesAbsentPresent
Blood TypeWarm-blooded
and cold-blooded
ReproductionSexual and asexualAsexual
NutritionHeterotrophicHeterotrophic, parasitic
ExamplesHumans, elephantsCockroach, worms

What are Vertebrates?

Vertebrates are animals with a backbone and belong to the Phylum Chordata. They are highly structured animals with many body parts distinct from this phylum. Their body anatomy and physiology is advanced than many other species and perform specialized functions. Over 58,000 types of vertebrates exist on Earth.

Structure of Vertebrates

Vertebrates have a detailed structure with body functions that may not be present in other animals. They mainly consist of a spinal cord that typically runs through the upper torso in the middle of the body.

The body structure of vertebrates contains the spinal cord, vertebrae, notochord, and mostly a proper endoskeleton. Most vertebrates possess a bony endoskeleton, except fishes with a cartilaginous endoskeleton. The notochord is present in the mid-dorsal line of the body in the embryonic stages. It further develops into the spinal column in adults. Besides vertebrae and notochord, the vascular and respiratory systems are also well-developed in the vertebrates. They have kidneys for excretion of waste materials from the body, and the heart is comparted for enhanced circulatory function and may comprise two, three, or four chambers.

Classification of Vertebrates

Although vertebrates are a sub-group of the Phylum Chordata, these are further categorized into five classes, including:

  • Mammals
  • Birds
  • Reptiles
  • Amphibians
  • Fish

What are Invertebrates?

Invertebrates are animals that do not possess a spinal cord. The lack of a spinal cord restricts their body to a small size as they might not be able to carry their weight. They are quite commonly distributed in our biome and ecosystem. These are small animals and insects like jellyfish, worms, snails, etc. Their structure is simple compared to vertebrates with less specialized body functions.

Structure of Invertebrates

The structure of invertebrates consists of three main segments; the head, abdomen, and thorax. They do not have an endoskeleton or spinal cord but possess a chitinous exoskeleton. They do not have highly structured systems like the respiratory system and breathe through their skins or gills in some cases.

Classification of Invertebrates

Invertebrates are further categorized into six classes, including

  • Mollusks
  • Worms
  • Arthropods
  • Jellyfish
  • Sponges
  • Starfish

Similarities Between Vertebrates and Invertebrates

  • The most important similarity between the two is that they both belong to the kingdom Animalia and have all characteristics of animals.
  • Vertebrates and invertebrates are multicellular organisms.
  • They both have a nervous system.
  • Hearts are present in both vertebrates and invertebrates, though the anatomy may differ.
  • They exhibit bilateral symmetry.

Difference Between Vertebrates and Invertebrates



Vertebrates are those organisms belonging to Kingdom Animalia that have a spinal cord.


Invertebrates belong to Kingdom Animalia too but do not have a spinal cord.



Only 5% of the organisms on Earth are vertebrates.


Whereas, around 95% of organisms present on the planet are invertebrates.



Vertebrates are divided into five classes; mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.


Contrary, there are over 30 phyla of invertebrates. The common groups of invertebrates are sponges (falling under phylum Porifera), mollusks, jellyfish, orthopods, etc.



Vertebrates have bilateral body symmetry which means you can cut them into two equal halves.


However, invertebrates possess a bilateral and radial body symmetry around the central axis, such as in starfish.



Vertebrates are bigger in size than invertebrates.


While invertebrates do not grow too big usually as they lack an end structure. Yet, exceptions exist, and some invertebrates may be several feet in size.



Vertebrates have a developed internal skeleton and backbone that supports the body structure.


On the other hand, invertebrates do not have a proper endoskeleton, and the exoskeleton is present.

Internal Anatomy


They have highly specialized systems like the vascular, including arteries and veins, the respiratory for proper respiration, and the circulatory system for blood circulation.


At the same time, invertebrates do not have highly-specialized systems or organs like lungs and kidneys.

Circulatory System


Vertebrates have a closed circulatory system with a heart as the main pumping organ. Some organisms have two-chambered hearts, while others may have three or four chambers.


On the other hand, invertebrates have an open circulatory system.

Nervous System


The nervous system in vertebrates is highly complex and further divided into other components.


Contrary, invertebrates have an unorganized and simple nervous system.



The skin of vertebrates is composed of multiple layers of the skin, including the dermis and epidermis.


In comparison, in invertebrates, only one layer of skin is present to save them from the atmosphere.

Compound Eyes


Compound eyes are not present in vertebrates.


However, most invertebrates have compound eyes.

Blood Type


Most vertebrates are warm-blooded, but they sometimes may be cold-blooded as well.


Invertebrates are usually cold-blooded.



As vertebrates belong to the kingdom Animalia, their mode of nutrition is typically heterotrophic.


Despite belonging to the kingdom Animalia, these organisms may have an autotrophic or parasitic mode of nutrition apart from heterotrophic nutrition.



Examples of vertebrates include humans and animals like elephants, zebras, etc.


Whereas examples of invertebrates are flies, cockroaches, octopuses, bugs, etc.



What are dermis and epidermis?

The dermis and epidermis are the two layers that collectively form the skin. The epidermis is the outermost layer of skin, while the dermis is just beneath the epidermis, having several functions.

What are amphibians and reptiles?

Reptiles typically live on land and have a scaly body, while amphibians live in water and on land and have smooth skin. Moreover, reptiles possess lungs for breathing, whereas amphibians have gills that help them stay underwater. Examples of amphibians are frogs and salamanders, and examples of reptiles are lizards, snakes, etc.

How do vertebrates reproduce?

Vertebrates typically reproduce through sexual reproduction, yet some organisms also exhibit asexual reproduction. On the other hand, invertebrates reproduce mainly through asexual reproduction.

Where do invertebrates live?

As insects are commonly invertebrates, they live everywhere around us. You may have many invertebrates like ants, spiders, and flies living in your right now, sharing the same habitat as yours.

The Bottom Line

Vertebrates are animals with a backbone, while invertebrates do not have a backbone. The presence or absence of a backbone in their structure impacts their sizes, and invertebrates are typically smaller in size than vertebrates. Invertebrates also do not have a high structural or functional ability like invertebrates. Many systems are not as well-developed as vertebrates like the circulatory, respiratory, excretory, etc. Both kinds of animals are an essential part of the ecosystem.

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