Word of the week: parthenogenesis

James McCoull investigates our egg-citing word this week

James McCoull
5th December 2016

We’re all familiar with the common modes of reproduction, right? The system generally goes that member X of a species contains or produces an egg, member Y of the same species fertilises the egg, and after gestation a new member of the species hatches or is born. It’s a pretty naturalised system. But, of course, nature is full of variations.

Take, for example, parthenogenesis: a mode of asexual reproduction by which a species requires no partner, containing an ovum which develops into an embryo entirely of its own volition. This phenomenon is observed in various insects and arachnids, as well as some reptiles, fish and amphibians, particularly lizards. It is generally rarer than sexual or hermaphroditic reproduction, but works perfectly well for those species in which it manifests, as it almost guarantees a 1:1 reproduction rate provided the young are not killed before they themselves can produce their own genetic clones.

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