A hermaphrodite is an organism having both male and female reproductive organs. In many species, hermaphroditism is a common part of the life-cycle, enabling a form of sexual reproduction in which partners are not separated into distinct male and female types of individual. Hermaphroditism most commonly occurs in invertebrates, although it is also found in some fish, and to a lesser degree in other vertebrates.
Historically, the term hermaphrodite has also been used to describe ambiguous genitalia and gonadal mosaicism in individuals of gonochoristic species, especially human beings. The term comes from the name of the minor Greek god Hermaphroditus, son of Hermes and Aphrodite.
Recently, intersex has been used and preferred by many such individuals, encouraging medical professionals to use the term.
Sequential hermaphrodites (dichogamy) occurs in species in which the individual is born as one sex but can later change into the alternate sex. This is in contrast with simultaneous hermaphrodites, in which an individual may possess fully functional male and female gonads. Sequential hermaphroditism is common in teleost fish, especially marine reef species. While some sequential hermaphrodites can change sex multiple times, most can only change sex once.
Sequential hermaphrodites fall into two broad categories :
- Protandry: Where an organism is born as a male, and then changes sex to a female - example : The clownfish (Genus Amphiprion) are colorful reef fish found living in symbiosis with anemones. Generally one anemone contains a 'harem', consisting of a large female, a smaller reproductive male, and even smaller non-reproductive males. If the female is removed, the reproductive male will change sex and the largest of the non-reproductive males will mature and become reproductive. It has been shown that fishing pressure can change when the switch from male to female occurs, since fishermen naturally prefer to catch the larger fish. The populations are generally changing sex at a smaller size, due to artificial selection.
- Protogyny : Where the organism starts as a female, and then changes sex to a male - example : wrasses (Family Labridae) are a group of reef fish in which protogyny is common. Wrasses also have an uncommon life history strategy, which is termed diandry (literally, two males). In these species, two male morphs exists : an initial phase male or a terminal phase male. Initial phase males do not look like males and spawn in groups with other females. They are not territorial. They are perhaps, female mimics (which is why they are found swimming in group with other females). Terminal phase males are territorial, and have a distinctively bright coloration. Individuals are born as males or females but if they are born males, they are not born as Terminal Phase males. Females and initial phase males can become terminal phase males. Usually the most dominant female or initial phase male replaces any terminal phase male, when those males die or abandon the group.
A simultaneous hermaphrodite (or synchronous hermaphrodite) is an adult organism that has both male and female sexual organs at the same time. Usually, self-fertilization does not occur.
- Snails are perhaps the most classic of simultaneous hermaphrodite, and the most widespread of terrestrial animals possessing this sexual polymorphism. Sexual material is exchanged between both animals via spermatophore which can then be stored in the spermatheca. After exchange of spermatazoa, both animals will lay fertilized eggs after a period of gestation, which then proceed to hatch after a development period. Snails typically reproduce in early spring and late autumn.
- Hamlets, unlike other fish, seem quite at ease mating in front of divers, allowing observations in the wild to occur readily. They do not practice self-fertilization, but when they find a mate, the pair takes turns between which one acts as the male and which acts as the female through multiple matings, usually over the course of several nights.
- Earthworms are another example of a simultaneous hermaphrodite. Although they possess ovaries and testes, they have a protective mechanism against self fertilization and can only function as a single sex at one time. Sexual reproduction occurs when two worms meet and exchange gametes, copulating on damp nights during warm seasons. Fertilized eggs are protected by a cocoon, which is buried on or near the surface of the ground.
- Banana slugs are one more simultaneous hermaphrodite example. Mating with a partner is most desirable, as the genetic material of the offspring is varied, but if mating with a partner is not possible, self-fertilization is practised. The male sexual organ of an adult banana slug is quite large in proportion to its size, as well as compared to the female organ. It is possible for banana slugs, while mating, to become stuck together. If a substantial amount of wiggling fails to separate them, the male organ will be bitten off (with the slug's radula). If a banana slug has lost its male sexual organ, it can still self-fertilize, making its hermaphroditic quality an invaluable adaptation.
Female Hyenas have a clitoris that is greatly enlarged, so much so, that they were described as hermaphrodites - not only by the ancient Greeks, but as recently as the twentieth century among circus animal handlers - until scientific information was provided that clarified the misunderstanding.
Hermaphrodite is used in botany to describe a flower that has both staminate (male, pollen-producing) and carpellate (female, ovule-producing) parts. This condition is seen in many common garden plants. A closer analogy to hermaphrodism in animals is the presence of separate male and female flowers on the same individual - such plants are called monoecious. Monoecy is especially common in conifers, but occurs in only about 7% of angiosperm species (Molnar, 2004).
Other uses of the term
Hermaphrodite was used to describe any person incompatible with the biological gender binary, but has recently been replaced by intersexual in medicine. Humans with typical reproductive organs but atypical clitoris/penis are called pseudohermaphrodites in medical literature.
People with intersex conditions sometimes choose to live exclusively as one sex or the other, using clothing, social cues, genital surgery, and hormone replacement therapy to blend into the sex they identify with more closely. Some people who are intersexed, such as some of those with Klinefelter's syndrome and androgen insensitivity syndrome, outwardly appear completely female or male already, without realizing they are intersexed. Other kinds of intersex conditions are identified immediately at birth because those with the condition have a sexual organ larger than a clitoris and smaller than a penis. Intersexuality is thought by some to be caused by unusual sex hormones; the unusual hormones may be caused by an atypical set of sex chromosomes.
Sigmund Freud (based on work by his associate Wilhelm Fliess) held fetal hermaphroditism to be a fact of the physiological development of humans. He was so certain of this, in fact, that he based much of his theory of innate sexuality on that assumption. Similarly, in contemporary times, fetuses before sexual differentiation are sometimes described as female by doctors explaining the process. Neither concept is technically true. Before this stage, humans are simply undifferentiated and possess a Müllerian duct, a Wolffian duct, and a genital tubercle.
The term "hermaphrodite" derives from Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology, who was fused with a nymph, Salmacis, resulting in one individual possessing physical traits of both sexes. Thus Hermaphroditus could be called, using modern terminology, a simultaneous hermaphrodite. The mythological figure of Tiresias, who figures in the Oedipus cycle as well as the Odyssey, could be called a sequential hermaphrodite, having been changed from a man to a woman and back by the gods.
- Ursula K. Le Guin's novel The Left Hand of Darkness featured a planet inhabited by humans whose ancestors had modified themselves to be sequential hermaphrodites. For twenty-four days of each twenty-six day lunar cycle, they were sexually latent androgynes, and for the remaining two days were male or female, as determined by pheromonal negotiation with an interested sex partner.
- The 1990 Michael Crichton science fiction novel Jurassic Park and its 1993 film adaptation featured dinosaurs exhibiting a sequential hermaphrodite transformation as a key plot point. The ability of the scientists to maintain control over the park's cloned dinosaur population was derived by preventing the dinosaurs from developing a Y chromosome while in fetal development, thus ensuring that they were all females. However, the scientists used DNA of some other animals with sequential hermaphroditic abilities to complete fragmented portions of the dinosaurs' DNA, allowing some of them to become male in adulthood, and mate.
- The 1993 Gary Jennings novel "Raptor" features Thorn, a hermaphrodite, as its main character.
- Baron Ashura, one of the Dr. Hell's henchmen in Mazinger Z series, is a hermaphrodite.
- The Star Trek : New Frontier series features the Hermat species, including Burgoyne 172. Hermats possess both male and female characteristics.
- The main character, Ichijou Mashiro, of the manga series After School Nightmare is a hermaphrodite. He struggles throughout the series trying to identify with one sex or the other.
- In Nabari no Ou, Yoite was a hermaphrodite whose mother died giving birth to him.
- In Star Wars, Hutts are Hermaphrodites.
- The 2002 novel Middlesex is narrated by its protagonist, Calliope Stephanides, who is a true hermaphrodite.
- The Greek mythical figure Tiresias appears in many classical and modern works, including The Odyssey, Oedipus the King and The Divine Comedy.
- In South Park Season 2 Episode 15, Dr. Mephisto reveals that Ms.Cartman is a hermaphrodite.
- There is a Star Trek-Next Generation episode that features a hermaphrodite species, Melinda Culea is the top guest star in whose character Riker falls in love with briefly.
Text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation
|More pictures |
|Item(s) related |
|Related article(s) |