Way-Out Wednesday: Gender Benders–The Clownfish!

Clownfish, © 2015 Liz Vitale

Clownfish, © 2015 Liz Vitale

Throughout the animal kingdom there are a few species that are hermaphrodites–organisms that have both male and female reproductive organs and can perform both the male and female functions of reproduction. In some examples, the animal starts out as one sex and switches to the other later in life, and this is called sequential hermaphroditism. (the opposite is simultaneous hermaphroditism, in which the animal can produce sperm and eggs at the same time) Some sequentially hermaphroditic fish species like the clownfish develop first as male, then switch to female, which is a condition called protandry.

Clownfish live within sea anemones in groups of many small fish, and two large fish, who are the only sexually mature fish and are a male and female breeding pair. All of the smaller fish are male. If the present breeding female is removed, her male mate changes sex to female, then the next largest fish in the group rapidly increases in size and takes over the role as the sexually mature male.

Finding Nemo could have been a whole different story…

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