Structural Variations in Vertebrate Kidney
The structure of the vertebrate kidney is by no means universal. The mammalian kidney consists of an outer granular cortex and an inner striated medulla. The granular appearance of the cortex is due to the presence of glomeruli in this region. Medulla looks striated due to the parallel arrangement of blood vessels and tubules of the nephrons. In fishes, amphibians and reptiles, the renal tubules are short, are devoid of Henle's loop and there is no clear cut distinction between cortex and medulla. In birds there is some degree of spatial organisation of the nephrons so that a small central medulla can be discerned from the outer cortex. This division into cortical and medullary regions is most pronounced in the mammalian kidney.
It is the presence of Henle's loop that enables the avian and mammalian kidney to produce hyperosmotic urine. The ureteral urine in other vertebrates is either hypoosmotic or at best isosomotic to blood. However, terrestrial reptiles and birds produce a semi-solid or solid urine due to reabsorption of water in the cloaca. In birds and mammals, the ureteral urine itself is hyperosmotic to blood. The maximum urine osmolarity attained by the avian kidney is only about twice that of plasma. The urine concentrating ability of the kidney in mammals is related to the habitat. Desert animals produce highly concentrated urine and freshwater animals produce very dilute urine. The kidneys of some desert mammals can produce a urine which is 25 times more concentrated than the plasma. The beaver which has access to abundant water in the environment, on the other hand, has kidneys with only moderate ability to concentrate the urine.