The fusion of a sperm and an egg is a process called fertilization. This can occur either inside (internal fertilization) or outside (external fertilization) the body of the female. Humans provide an example of the former, whereas frog reproduction is an example of the latter.

External Fertilization

External fertilization usually occurs in aquatic environments where both eggs and sperm are released into the water. After the sperm reaches the egg, fertilization takes place. Most external fertilization happens during the process of spawning where one or several females release their eggs and the male(s) release sperm in the same area, at the same time. The spawning may be triggered by environmental signals, such as water temperature or the length of daylight. Nearly all fish spawn, as do crustaceans (such as crabs and shrimp), mollusks (such as oysters), squid, and echinoderms (such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers). Frogs, corals, mayflies, and mosquitoes also spawn (Figure 13.6).

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Figure 13.6 During sexual reproduction in toads, the male grasps the female from behind and externally fertilizes the eggs as they are deposited. (credit: Bernie Kohl)

Internal Fertilization

Internal fertilization occurs most often in terrestrial animals, although some aquatic animals also use this method. Internal fertilization may occur by the male directly depositing sperm in the female during mating. It may also occur by the male depositing sperm in the environment, usually in a protective structure, which a female picks up to deposit the sperm in her reproductive tract. There are three ways that offspring are produced following internal fertilization. In oviparity, fertilized eggs are laid outside the female’s body and develop there, receiving nourishment from the yolk that is a part of the egg (Figure 13.7 a). This occurs in some bony fish, some reptiles, a few cartilaginous fish, some amphibians, a few mammals, and all birds. Most non-avian reptiles and insects produce leathery eggs, while birds and some turtles produce eggs with high concentrations of calcium carbonate in the shell, making them hard. Chicken eggs are an example of a hard shell. The eggs of the egg-laying mammals such as the platypus and echidna are leathery.

In ovoviparity, fertilized eggs are retained in the female, and the embryo obtains its nourishment from the egg’s yolk. The eggs are retained in the female’s body until they hatch inside of her, or she lays the eggs right before they hatch. This process helps protect the eggs until hatching. This occurs in some bony fish (like the platyfish Xiphophorus maculatus, Figure 13.7 b), some sharks, lizards, some snakes (garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis), some vipers, and some invertebrate animals (Madagascar hissing cockroach Gromphadorhina portentosa).

In viviparity the young are born alive. They obtain their nourishment from the female and are born in varying states of maturity. This occurs in most mammals (Figure 13.7 c), some cartilaginous fish, and a few reptiles.

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Figure 13.7 In (a) oviparity, young develop in eggs outside the female body, as with these Harmonia axydridis beetles hatching. Some aquatic animals, like this (b) pregnant Xiphophorus maculatus are ovoviparous, with the egg developing inside the female and nutrition supplied primarily from the yolk. In mammals, nutrition is supported by the placenta, as was the case with this (c) newborn squirrel. (credit b: modification of work by Gourami Watcher; credit c: modification of work by “audreyjm529″/Flickr)


Reproduction may be asexual when one individual produces genetically identical offspring, or sexual when the genetic material from two individuals is combined to produce genetically diverse offspring. Asexual reproduction in animals occurs through fission, budding, fragmentation, and parthenogenesis. Sexual reproduction may involve fertilization inside the body or in the external environment. A species may have separate sexes or combined sexes; when the sexes are combined they may be expressed at different times in the life cycle. The sex of an individual may be determined by various chromosomal systems or environmental factors such as temperature.

Sexual reproduction starts with the combination of a sperm and an egg in a process called fertilization. This can occur either outside the bodies or inside the female. The method of fertilization varies among animals. Some species release the egg and sperm into the environment, some species retain the egg and receive the sperm into the female body and then expel the developing embryo covered with shell, while still other species retain the developing offspring throughout the gestation period.

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