Biology » The Reproductive System » Reproduction Methods

Sex Determination

Sex Determination

Mammalian sex determination is determined genetically by the presence of X and Y chromosomes. Individuals homozygous for X (XX) are female and heterozygous individuals (XY) are male. The presence of a Y chromosome causes the development of male characteristics and its absence results in female characteristics. The XY system is also found in some insects and plants.

Avian sex determination is dependent on the presence of Z and W chromosomes. Homozygous for Z (ZZ) results in a male and heterozygous (ZW) results in a female. The W appears to be essential in determining the sex of the individual, similar to the Y chromosome in mammals. Some fish, crustaceans, insects (such as butterflies and moths), and reptiles use this system.

The sex of some species is not determined by genetics but by some aspect of the environment. Sex determination in some crocodiles and turtles, for example, is often dependent on the temperature during critical periods of egg development. This is referred to as environmental sex determination, or more specifically as temperature-dependent sex determination. In many turtles, cooler temperatures during egg incubation produce males and warm temperatures produce females. In some crocodiles, moderate temperatures produce males and both warm and cool temperatures produce females. In some species, sex is both genetic- and temperature-dependent.

Individuals of some species change their sex during their lives, alternating between male and female. If the individual is female first, it is termed protogyny or “first female,” if it is male first, its termed protandry or “first male.” Oysters, for example, are born male, grow, and become female and lay eggs; some oyster species change sex multiple times.

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