Reproduction Methods

Methods of Reproducing

Animal reproduction is essential to the survival of a species; it can occur through either asexual or sexual means.

Learning Objectives

Describe reproduction in animals

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Reproduction (or procreation) is the biological process by which new “offspring” are produced from their “parents”.
  • Asexual reproduction yields genetically-identical organisms because an individual reproduces without another.
  • In sexual reproduction, the genetic material of two individuals from the same species combines to produce genetically-different offspring; this ensures mixing of the gene pool of the species.
  • Organisms that reproduce through asexual reproduction tend to grow exponentially and rely on mutations for DNA variation, while those that reproduce sexually yield a smaller number of offspring, but have larger genetic variation.

Key Terms

  • reproduction: the act of producing new individuals biologically
  • clone: a living organism produced asexually from a single ancestor, to which it is genetically identical

Animal Reproduction

Reproduction (or procreation) is the biological process by which new “offspring” (individual organisms) are produced from their “parents. ” It is a fundamental feature of all known life that each individual organism exists as the result of reproduction. Most importantly, reproduction is necessary for the survival of a species. The known methods of reproduction are broadly grouped into two main types: sexual and asexual.

In asexual reproduction, an individual can reproduce without involvement with another individual of that species. The division of a bacterial cell into two daughter cells is an example of asexual reproduction. This type of reproduction produces genetically-identical organisms (clones), whereas in sexual reproduction, the genetic material of two individuals combines to produce offspring that are genetically different from their parents.

During sexual reproduction, the male gamete (sperm) may be placed inside the female’s body for internal fertilization, or the sperm and eggs may be released into the environment for external fertilization. Humans provide an example of the former, while seahorses provide an example of the latter. Following a mating dance, the female seahorse lays eggs in the male seahorse’s abdominal brood pouch where they are fertilized. The eggs hatch and the offspring develop in the pouch for several weeks.


Sexual reproduction in seahorses: Female seahorses produce eggs for reproduction that are then fertilized by the male. Unlike almost all other animals, the male seahorse then gestates the young until birth.

Asexual versus Sexual Reproduction

Organisms that reproduce through asexual reproduction tend to grow in number exponentially. However, because they rely on mutation for variations in their DNA, all members of the species have similar vulnerabilities. Organisms that reproduce sexually yield a smaller number of offspring, but the large amount of variation in their genes makes them less susceptible to disease.

Many organisms can reproduce sexually as well as asexually. Aphids, slime molds, sea anemones, and some species of starfish are examples of animal species with this ability. When environmental factors are favorable, asexual reproduction is employed to exploit suitable conditions for survival, such as an abundant food supply, adequate shelter, favorable climate, disease, optimum pH, or a proper mix of other lifestyle requirements. Populations of these organisms increase exponentially via asexual reproductive strategies to take full advantage of the rich supply resources. When food sources have been depleted, the climate becomes hostile, or individual survival is jeopardized by some other adverse change in living conditions, these organisms switch to sexual forms of reproduction.

Sexual reproduction ensures a mixing of the gene pool of the species. The variations found in offspring of sexual reproduction allow some individuals to be better suited for survival and provide a mechanism for selective adaptation to occur. In addition, sexual reproduction usually results in the formation of a life stage that is able to endure the conditions that threaten the offspring of an asexual parent. Thus, seeds, spores, eggs, pupae, cysts, or other “over-wintering” stages of sexual reproduction ensure the survival during unfavorable times as the organism can “wait out” adverse situations until a swing back to suitability occurs.

Types of Sexual and Asexual Reproduction

Asexual and sexual reproduction, two methods of reproduction among animals, produce offspring that are clones or genetically unique.

Learning Objectives

Discuss sexual and asexual reproduction methods

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Asexual reproduction includes fission, budding, fragmentation, and parthenogenesis, while sexual reproduction is achieved through the combination of reproductive cells from two individuals.
  • The ability of a species to reproduce through fragmentation depends on the size of part that breaks off, while in binary fission, an individual splits off and forms two individuals of the same size.
  • Budding may lead to the production of a completely new adult that forms away from the original body or may remain attached to the original body.
  • Observed in invertebrates and some vertebrates, parthenogenesis produce offspring that may be either haploid or diploid.
  • Sexual reproduction, the production of an offspring with a new combination of genes, may also involve hermaphroditism in which an organism can self-fertilize or mate with another individual of the same species.

Key Terms

  • binary fission: the process whereby a cell divides asexually to produce two daughter cells
  • hermaphroditism: having sexual organs of both sexes
  • parthenogenesis: a form of asexual reproduction where growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization

Methods of Reproduction: Asexual & Sexual

Asexual Reproduction

Asexual reproduction produces offspring that are genetically identical to the parent because the offspring are all clones of the original parent. This type of reproduction occurs in prokaryotic microorganisms (bacteria) and in some eukaryotic single-celled and multi-celled organisms. Animals may reproduce asexually through fission, budding, fragmentation, or parthenogenesis.


Fission, also called binary fission, occurs in prokaryotic microorganisms and in some invertebrate, multi-celled organisms. After a period of growth, an organism splits into two separate organisms. Some unicellular eukaryotic organisms undergo binary fission by mitosis. In other organisms, part of the individual separates, forming a second individual. This process occurs, for example, in many asteroid echinoderms through splitting of the central disk. Some sea anemones and some coral polyps also reproduce through fission.


Fission: Coral polyps reproduce asexually by fission, where an organism splits into two separate organisms.


Budding is a form of asexual reproduction that results from the outgrowth of a part of a cell or body region leading to a separation from the original organism into two individuals. Budding occurs commonly in some invertebrate animals such as corals and hydras. In hydras, a bud forms that develops into an adult, which breaks away from the main body; whereas in coral budding, the bud does not detach and multiplies as part of a new colony.


Budding: Hydra reproduce asexually through budding, where a bud forms that develops into an adult and breaks away from the main body.


Fragmentation is the breaking of the body into two parts with subsequent regeneration. If the animal is capable of fragmentation, and the part is big enough, a separate individual will regrow.

Many sea stars reproduce asexually by fragmentation. For example, if the arm of an individual sea star is broken off it will regenerate a new sea star. Fishery workers have been known to try to kill the sea stars that eat their clam or oyster beds by cutting them in half and throwing them back into the ocean. Unfortunately for the workers, the two parts can each regenerate a new half, resulting in twice as many sea stars to prey upon the oysters and clams. Fragmentation also occurs in annelid worms, turbellarians, and poriferans.


Fragmentation: Sea stars can reproduce through fragmentation. The large arm, a fragment from another sea star, is developing into a new individual.

Note that in fragmentation, there is generally a noticeable difference in the size of the individuals, whereas in fission, two individuals of approximately the same size are formed.


Parthenogenesis is a form of asexual reproduction where an egg develops into a complete individual without being fertilized. The resulting offspring can be either haploid or diploid, depending on the process and the species. Parthenogenesis occurs in invertebrates such as water fleas, rotifers, aphids, stick insects, some ants, wasps, and bees. Bees use parthenogenesis to produce haploid males (drones) and diploid females (workers). If an egg is fertilized, a queen is produced. The queen bee controls the reproduction of the hive bees to regulate the type of bee produced.

Some vertebrate animals, such as certain reptiles, amphibians, and fish, also reproduce through parthenogenesis. Although more common in plants, parthenogenesis has been observed in animal species that were segregated by sex in terrestrial or marine zoos. Two Komodo dragons, a bonnethead shark, and a blacktip shark have produced parthenogenic young when the females have been isolated from males.

Sexual Reproduction

Sexual reproduction is the combination of (usually haploid, or having a single set of unpaired chromosomes) reproductive cells from two individuals to form a third (usually diploid, or having a pair of each type of chromosome) unique offspring. Sexual reproduction produces offspring with novel combinations of genes. This can be an adaptive advantage in unstable or unpredictable environments. As humans, we are used to thinking of animals as having two separate sexes, male and female, determined at conception. However, in the animal kingdom, there are many variations on this theme.


Hermaphroditism occurs in animals where one individual has both male and female reproductive parts. Invertebrates, such as earthworms, slugs, tapeworms and snails, are often hermaphroditic. Hermaphrodites may self-fertilize or may mate with another of their species, fertilizing each other and both producing offspring. Self fertilization is common in animals that have limited mobility or are not motile, such as barnacles and clams.

Sex Determination

Sex determination in animals may be regulated by the presence of chromosomes or through the impact of an environmental factor.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate among the various ways animals determine the sex of offspring

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Mammals, birds, and some other animal species depend on heterozygous or homozygous chromosome combinations for sex determination.
  • Cool or warm temperatures affect sex determination in species such as crocodiles and turtles.
  • Some species, such as oysters, have the capability of alternating their sex several times within their life span.

Key Terms

  • protandry: the condition in which an organism begins life as a male and then changes into a female
  • protogyny: the condition in which an organism begins life as a female and then changes into a male
  • homozygous: of an organism in which both copies of a given gene have the same allele
  • heterozygous: of an organism which has two different alleles of a given gene

Sex Determination

Mammalian sex is determined genetically by the presence of X and Y chromosomes. Individuals homozygous for X (XX) are female, while heterozygous individuals (XY) are male. The presence of a Y chromosome causes the development of male characteristics, while its absence results in female characteristics. The XY system is also found in some insects and plants.


Sex determination: The presence of X and Y chromosomes are one of the factors responsible for sex determination in mammals, with males being the heterozygous sex. In birds, Z and W chromosomes determine sex, with females being the heterozygous sex.

Avian sex determination is dependent on the presence of Z and W chromosomes. Homozygous for Z (ZZ) results in a male, while heterozygous (ZW) results in a female. The W appears to be essential in determining the sex of the individual, similar to the Y chromosome in mammals. Some fish, crustaceans, insects (such as butterflies and moths), and reptiles use this system.

The sex of some species is not determined by genetics, but by some aspect of the environment. Sex determination in some crocodiles and turtles, for example, is often dependent on the temperature during critical periods of egg development. This is referred to as environmental sex determination or, more specifically, as temperature-dependent sex determination. In many turtles, cooler temperatures during egg incubation produce males, while warm temperatures produce females. In some crocodiles, moderate temperatures produce males, while both warm and cool temperatures produce females. In some species, sex is both genetic- and temperature-dependent.

Individuals of some species change their sex during their lives, alternating between male and female. If the individual is female first, it is termed protogyny or “first female;” if it is male first, it is termed protandry or “first male.” Oysters, for example, are born male, grow, become female, and lay eggs; some oyster species change sex multiple times.