Cold-blooded animals that spend part of their time on land and part in the water, amphibians are able to breathe through their skin. (This permeable skin makes them particularly vulnerable to environmental disturbances, from chemical pollution to the thinning ozone layer and global climate change.) The first major groups developed about 400 million years ago, from fishes similar to modern coelocanths that were about 15 feet long. Later amphibians moved up the food chain, eating insects on land and fish in the water. By about 250 million years ago, amphibians were competing with proto-crocodiles, pushing their distribution north and south from the equator and causing a reduction in amphibian size in temperate zones. 

More than 2063 species of frogs, toads and salamanders — more than 31 percent of the world’s amphibians — are at risk of dying out. And scientists lack sufficient information to even assess the status of more than 20 percent of the world’s herps. These species are slipping away faster than we can study them.