It’s common knowledge that reproduction occurs when a male and female come together. However, did you know that there are some animals that reproduce asexually? Meaning these animals don’t need a mate to parent offsprings with their genes.
Some animals reproduce asexually because it allows them to pass on their genes without having to spend energy finding a mate. At the same time, other animals develop to have this ability to reproduce without a mate due to environmental conditions. There are various forms of asexual reproduction depending on the animal: ranging from unfertilized eggs and offspring growing from detached body parts. This article will go over 16 animals that reproduce asexually and explain how or why.
I hope you enjoy the information!
16 animals that reproduce asexually
Here is a list of 16 animals that can reproduce without a mate; some do it naturally while others can develop this ability. Let’s find out more!
1. Burmese python
Scientific name: Python bivittatus
The Burmese python is one of the world’s longest snakes, reaching 26 feet in length and over 200 pounds. Although native to Asia, Burmese pythons 8 to 10 feet long have been found in the Florida wild.
The first witness of a “virgin birth” by these snakes was in 2012 at the Louisville Zoological Gardens in Kentucky. An 11-year-old python produced a clutch of 61 eggs despite having no exposure to a male. The eggs had a mix of unhealthy and healthy embryos, with six successful healthy female snake babies.
2. Komodo dragon
Scientific name: Varanus komodoensis
The largest vertebrate animal that we know which reproduces asexually is the komodo dragon. These large lizards grow around 10 feet long and 300 pounds. Originally they were thought only to reproduce sexually. However, in 2006 two isolated females became pregnant at London’s Chester Zoo.
Scientists found that the komodo dragon was able to do this because one of the pre-egg cells in her body became a surrogate sperm to create genetic material for a “true egg.” Since these animals are considered vulnerable, this is a good sign they could potentially repopulate in environments with limited or no mates.
3. New Mexico whiptail lizard
Scientific name: Cnemidophorus neomexicanus
The New Mexico whiptail is a lizard species you can find in the southwestern U.S. states of New Mexico and Arizona. These lizard species are female only, making it essential for them to be asexual to reproduce.
Usually, animals that reproduce asexually will end up with offspring with identical genes to themselves. However, the New Mexico whiptail can do so with offspring that have DNA changes from generation to generation.
4. Water fleas
Scientific name: Daphnia magna
Water fleas are tiny zooplankton organisms that typically reproduce asexually during normal environmental conditions. The offspring will have identical genes to the parent.
Uniquely, these organisms will choose to reproduce sexually when heat waves or food shortages threaten their population. They mate to lay extra-durable eggs, which remain dormant for dozens of years to survive harsh conditions. These eggs will then hatch with varying DNA to repopulate the species.
Scientific superfamily: Aphidoidea
Probably one of the most bizarre animals on this list is the aphid. These small bugs are born pregnant, where the babies will start developing embryos when they are still in the mother’s wombs.
These bugs reproduce rapidly, causing extensive damage to the crops they feed on sap from. Sometimes in temperate regions during autumn, they will reproduce sexually to maintain natural diversity in their genes.
6. Bonnethead sharks
Scientific name: Sphyrna tiburo
The bonnethead shark has a shovel-shaped head and is one of the smaller hammerhead species. Typically these sharks require a mate to reproduce. However, when captive, their behavior can change.
For the first time in 2001, scientists observed a captive female bonnethead that hadn’t interacted with a male in three years give birth to a live female. This process where an embryo develops from an unfertilized egg is known as parthenogenesis.
7. Black carpenter ants
Scientific name: Camponotus pennsylvanicus
While some ant species are mainly asexual, such as the fungus-growing ant (Mycocepurus smithii), the common black carpenter ant can reproduce both sexually and asexually. In this species, unfertilized eggs will become males. In contrast, fertilized eggs become female.
These ants are common throughout the central and eastern U.S. They are known to forage for food up to 91 meters at a time.
8. Nine-banded armadillos
Scientific name: Mycocepurus smithii
Also known as the common long-nosed armadillo, the nine-banded armadillo is one of the most widespread armadillos native to North, Central, and South America. Their range seems to be moving further north every year.
These animals have interesting reproduction abilities. For starters, females can delay the implantation and development of a fertilized egg for up to four months. This allows the young to be born in the spring when there is more food.
They also display polyembryony traits, a form of asexual reproduction where one fertilized egg will split into multiple genetically identical clones. The nine-banded armadillo almost always gives birth to four identical babies.
9. Amazon molly fish
Scientific name: Poecilia formosa
The Amazon molly fish is a small freshwater species native to warm waters from northeastern Mexico to southern Texas. These fish are an all-female species capable of asexual reproduction. However, they also have unique behavior.
They will mate with male fish from closely related species, however, not for the sperm to fertilize the egg. Instead, the sperm triggers the mollies’ eggs to begin development.
10. Domestic turkey
Scientific name: Meleagris gallopavo domestica
Since the 19th century, there are cases where domesticated fowl such as chicken and turkey laid unfertilized eggs. While most don’t survive, the domestic turkey is one species that is known to create offspring with the highest survival rate among fowls. Most of these eggs will become males.
11. Marbled crayfish
Scientific name: Procambarus virginalis
Marbled crayfish are considered the only crustacean that can reproduce asexually. It was discovered in 1995 in a German aquarium that the species could clone itself.
In 2018, scientists studied the DNA of the marbled crayfish that had become an invasive species in European and African habitats. They found that all the crayfish were clones from a single organism that dated to around 1995. Between 2007 and 2017, these crustaceans have increased by 100 fold!
12. Cape honey bee
Scientific name: Apis mellifera capensis
The Cape honey bee is native to the Cape region of South Africa and a subspecies of the western honey bee. They are one of the few insect species known to generate new females through the process of parthenogenesis, where offspring grow from unfertilized eggs.
These bees lay eggs fertilized by their own DNA and grow to become worker bees. All worker bees are female, while male bees in the hive are called drones.
13. Parasitoid wasp
Scientific name: Lysiphlebus fabarum
Parasitoid wasps are typically very tiny with sizes as small as a pepper fleck. However, some can grow up to almost 3 inches long. They also range in color from dark all over to bright and patterned.
Scientists have found these wasps can reproduce asexually. They also have interesting habits that give them their name. These wasps typically lay their eggs on other arthropods. When the eggs hatch, the babies feed on the host and eventually cause death to the arthropod.
14. Common stick insects
Scientific name: Carausius morosus
The common, Indian, or laboratory stick insect is typically kept as pets, including in schools. They get their name from their stick-like appearance and coloring that allows them to camouflage in plants and hide from predators.
These insects are mostly asexual, being able to produce offspring without a mate. However, the offspring will be all female from asexual reproduction so sometimes they have to reproduce sexually as well to have males.
Scientific name: Porifera
Sponges are basic invertebrate animals living in aquatic habitats that lack true organs or tissues. While most of them are bisexual and reproduce by releasing ova and sperm into the water, they can also reproduce asexually through different methods:
- Formation of gemmules
- Formation of reduction bodies
Budding is when an overgrowth called a bud grows and breaks off to form a new sponge. Fission happens when a part splits off from other areas of the sponge to develop new individuals. Formation of gemmules is when a young bud forms in the parent and detaches to grow after the parent sponge decays. Formation of reduction bodies happens in unfavorable water conditions where the sponge reduces to a rounded ball that later develops into a new sponge.
16. Multiarmed sea star
Scientific name: Coscinasterias acutispina
The multiarmed sea star is a starfish that get their name from their 7 to 10 arms. While some starfish can reproduce sexually, others can reproduce asexually. In the case of the multiarmed sea star they can do both.
These starfish will undergo what is called fission to reproduce asexually. This process means they split into two halves, each half having at least three arms each. Each half will then regenerate new arms to become a complete starfish.