Asexual & Sexual Reproduction in Animals

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  • 0:02 Animals Reproduce
  • 0:52 Sexual Reproduction
  • 3:02 Asexual Reproduction
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

No species of animal can live forever, so it needs to reproduce. In this lesson we'll talk about how animals reproduce, and some of the pros and cons of the different types of reproduction.

Animals Reproduce

I want you to take a minute and think about some of the animals on Earth. Some familiar ones probably come to mind: dogs and cats, elephants, insects, fish, polar bears, monkeys and things like that. But what about some that might not be as familiar to you? Things like sponges, worms and even corals are also animals, just like you, me and Fido.

Animals on Earth are a diverse and complex group. They come in all different shapes, sizes, forms and colors. And they live just about everywhere you can imagine. But one thing they do have in common is that they don't live forever, and instead have to reproduce to ensure that their genes get passed on to the next generation.

We're going to delve a little deeper into the two ways animals reproduce: sexually and asexually. And gain a better understanding of these two very different processes that have the same end goal: creating the next generation.

Sexual Reproduction

The most common way animals reproduce is through a process called sexual reproduction. This involves the exchange of genetic information between two different individuals. This is exactly how you came to be you. The key with sexual reproduction is that offspring are produced through fertilization, which is the fusion of two gametes, or sex cells. Your father's sperm fertilized your mother's egg and voila! You were given a combination of cells from both of them that created you as a unique individual. You can see how unique you are by comparing yourself to you siblings. Same parents; very different kids.

And this is why sexual reproduction is so cool in terms of evolution. Sexual reproduction increases genetic variability in offspring, which leads to a greater ability for a population to adapt to changing environments. Basically, the more diverse a group of animals is, the better able they are to deal with the crazy world we live in.

Let's look at an example to see just how important the enormous amount of genetic variation provided by sexual reproduction is to the survival of a species. Let's say that you are an elephant, and that you live among a group of other elephants. You and these other elephants all have very short trunks that can only reap the leaves of lower hanging branches on trees. Luckily for you, there's plenty of those around for you to munch on. But then, one day, someone comes by and cuts down all of those lower branches. Now you and your elephant buddies are stuck, staring up at the taller branches, wishing you could somehow climb up there to get your dinner. This group of elephants is in bad shape, because everyone is the same. There's no variation in trunk length, so when the low branches are gone, so are your meals.

But now, let's say that in your group of elephants there are individuals with all different lengths of trunks. Some are short, some are long and some are in-between. With this group, even if someone comes by and chops off all the lower branches, some of the elephants in your group will still survive, because there are individuals who can still reach the higher branches. This variation in a population's genetic makeup is exactly what will allow that population to survive, even if not all of the individual members do.

Asexual Reproduction

In contrast to sexual reproduction, asexual reproduction is when genetically identical individuals are produced from a single parent. The term literally means 'without sex'. The 'a' prefix means 'without'. There's no exchange of genetic information, no unique individual created and no fertilization of one sex cell by the other. In fact, the offspring is an exact copy of the parent. Sound familiar? It may be, because this is also known as cloning, where the offspring has the same genetic makeup as the parent.

Now, as we just saw, this clearly puts animals that reproduce this way at a disadvantage, at least in terms of their genetic diversity. There's no way for variety to enter the population, because there's no genetic mixing. But there are some upsides to asexual reproduction that may have you thinking twice about feeling badly for these guys.

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