Vertebrate Paleontology


Main objectives:

-to acquire advanced knowledge of paleontology and evolution of vertebrates, with emphasis on fish, reptiles, and mammals, including general competences under i) anatomy and osteology, ii) classification, systematics and taxonomy, iii) procedures and mechanisms of evolution .

Specific objectives:

- to acquire knowledge on the origin and evolution of the major vertebrate groups.

- to be able to understand and discuss concepts about vertebrate paleontology.

- to acquire knowledge about the vertebrate groups most common in Portugal: fish, crocodylomorphs, dinosaurs, and mammals.

General characterization





Responsible teacher

Octávio João Madeira Mateus


Weekly - 3

Total - 28

Teaching language



Formation course in biology or UC of last term


M. Telles ANTUNES & A. C. BALBINO (2010) – “Fósseis de Portugal”/ PALEONTOLOGIA. Editora Interciência, Rio de Janeiro, 3ª Edição, vol. 1, Cap. 32, pp. 633-657.Editor: Ismar de Souza Carvalho). PALEONTOLOGIA. Ed. Interciência.

M. J. Benton. 2004 Vertebrate Palaeontology, 3d ed., Blackwell, Oxford.

Carroll, R. L. (1988). Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company. pp. 1–698. ISBN 0-7167-1822-7.

Nesbitt, S.J. 2011. The Early Evolution of Archosaurs: Relationships and the Origin of Major Clades. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 352:1-292.

M. J. Benton (ed.), The Phylogeny and Classification of the Tetrapods, vol.1: Amphibians, Reptiles and Birds, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1988

Romer, A. S. (1956). Osteology of Reptiles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 772. ISBN 089464985X.

Teaching method

Classroom, practical and theoretical-practical, with field trips.

Evaluation method

Evaluation at FCT

  1. Exercises in classes (all classes may have short assignments, such as bone identifications).

  2. Scientific essay (recommended: up to 5 pages) in a style of scientific article or review, about one aspect or group of vertebrate paleontology. New unpublished data and perspective is encouraged. Exact topic to be discussed with the professor. You can use as a early start for your thesis and profit the preparation done in previous classes. Plus presentation (5 min) in the classroom, and peer-review of the essays.  

  3. Bone fact sheet: create one A4 page that can be useful for identification of a given bone (1 page per bone. Example: ulna, humerus, cervical vertebra). It should contain: i) bone name, ii) image of the different view of the bone with labels signaling the detailed terminology of bone topology (crests, trochanters, condyles, etc), iii) images of that bone in an actinopterygian, amphibian, bird, reptile and mammals (if applicable), iv) scheme of the bone position in the body. Model available at

  4. Clade fact file: Powerpoint of 10 slides (= 10 clades) of clades fact data (list and exemple next)

  5. Field visit report.

  6. Peer assessments. The quality of your peer assessment may be graded.

* The data from your essay can be reused to support studies and your name will be included (in the acknowledgments or authorship). 

Subject matter

Vertebrate Palaeontology: Vertebrate origins, evolution, systematics and characterization of the major vertebrate groups. Agnathans and fishes (Class Placodermi, Class Acanthodii, Class Chondrichthyes); Tetrapods and Amphibians; Reptiles (i) Archosaurs (dinosaurs, birds, crocodiles and pterosaurs) (ii) Mosasaurs (iii) Plesiosaurs; Mammals; Primates and hominids

Comparative Anatomy: skeleton, teeth, non-skeletal organs. 

Transition environments, examples and key adaptations: Conquest of the land environment, secondary aquatic adaptations, origin of active flight.


Programs where the course is taught: