The word "amphibian" is derived from the Ancient Greek term (amphbios), which means "both kinds of life", meaning "of both kinds" and meaning "life". The term was initially used as a general adjective for animals that could live on land or in water, including seals and otters. Traditionally, the class Amphibia includes all tetrapod vertebrates that are not amniotes. Amphibia in its widest sense (sensu lato) was divided into three subclasses, two of which are extinct:
Subclass Lepospondyli (small Paleozoic group, which may actually be more closely related to amniotes than Lissamphibia)
Subclass Temnospondyli (diverse Paleozoic and early Mesozoic grade)
Subclass Lissamphibia (all modern amphibians, including frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians)
Salientia (frogs, toads and relatives): Jurassic to present6,200 current species in 53 families
Caudata (salamanders, newts and relatives): Jurassic to present652 current species in 9 families
Gymnophiona (caecilians and relatives): Jurassic to present192 current species in 10 families
The actual number of species in each group depends on the taxonomic classification followed. The two most common systems are the classification adopted by the website AmphibiaWeb, University of California, Berkeley and the classification by herpetologist Darrel Frost and the American Museum of Natural History, available as the online reference database "Amphibian Species of the World". The numbers of species cited above follows Frost and the total number of known amphibian species is over 7,000, of which nearly 90% are frogs.
With the phylogenetic classification, the taxon Labyrinthodontia has been discarded as it is a polyparaphyletic group without unique defining features apart from shared primitive characteristics. Classification varies according to the preferred phylogeny of the author and whether they use a stem-based or a node-based classification. Traditionally, amphibians as a class are defined as all tetrapods with a larval stage, while the group that includes the common ancestors of all living amphibians (frogs, salamanders and caecilians) and all their descendants is called Lissamphibia. The phylogeny of Paleozoic amphibians is uncertain, and Lissamphibia may possibly fall within extinct groups, like the Temnospondyli (traditionally placed in the subclass Labyrinthodontia) or the Lepospondyli, and in some analyses even in the amniotes. This means that advocates of phylogenetic nomenclature have removed a large number of basal Devonian and Carboniferous amphibian-type tetrapod groups that were formerly placed in Amphibia in Linnaean taxonomy, and included them elsewhere under cladistic taxonomy. If the common ancestor of amphibians and amniotes is included in Amphibia, it becomes a paraphyletic group.
All modern amphibians are included in the subclass Lissamphibia, which is usually considered a clade, a group of species that have evolved from a common ancestor. The three modern orders are Anura (the frogs and toads), Caudata (or Urodela, the salamanders), and Gymnophiona (or Apoda, the caecilians). It has been suggested that salamanders arose separately from a Temnospondyl-like ancestor, and even that caecilians are the sister group of the advanced reptiliomorph amphibians, and thus of amniotes. Although the fossils of several older proto-frogs with primitive characteristics are known, the oldest "true frog" is Prosalirus bitis, from the Early Jurassic Kayenta Formation of Arizona. It is anatomically very similar to modern frogs. The oldest known caecilian is another Early Jurassic species, Eocaecilia micropodia, also from Arizona. The earliest salamander is Beiyanerpeton jianpingensis from the Late Jurassic of northeastern China.
Authorities disagree as to whether Salientia is a superorder that includes the order Anura, or whether Anura is a sub-order of the order Salientia. The Lissamphibia are traditionally divided into three orders, but an extinct salamander-like family, the Albanerpetontidae, is now considered part of Lissamphibia alongside the superorder Salientia. Furthermore, Salientia includes all three recent orders plus the Triassic proto-frog, Triadobatrachus.