Darwin, the amphibians, and the natural selection

Jean-Sébastien STEYER

en Comptes Rendus Palevol 8 (2-3) - Pages 233-241

Published on 30 April 2009

This article is a part of the thematic issue Evolutionary history of Life

A critical review of Darwin's publications shows that he did not dissert much about amphibians, in comparison with the other tetrapods. However, in “A Naturalist's Voyage round the World”, Darwin described for the first time several amphibian species and was surprised by their peculiar way of life, terrestrial or euryhaline. These amphibian observations around the world led Darwin to discuss evolutionnary notions, like developmental heterochronies or evolving convergences, and later to illustrate his famous natural selection theory. This is confirmed, for example, by the publication of “On the Origin of Species” where Darwin ironically questioned creation theory, trying to explain the absence of amphibians on oceanic islands. Lamarck also considered amphibians as relevant material to illustrate his theory of acquired character heredity. These historical uses of lissamphibians as evolutionary models have been mostly realized before any amphibian fossil discovery, i.e. out of a palaeontological context.


Science history, Lissamphibians, Evolution, Stegocephalians, Lamarck, Ontogeny

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