Sunday, August 12, 2007

Fish & Sex :Metafish

drawings by marguerita

Of the vertebrates in the animal kingdom, sex determination is usually
a fixed characteristic in terms of life history.
Interestingly, there are a few organisms for whom sex is a plastic condition,
often determined by a combination of internal and external signals.
One such group of organisms which follows this trend are
the tropical teleosts: the conspicuous colorful fish inhabiting coral reefs.
The majority of reef fish change sex
at some point throughout their life. In fact,
reef fish that remain as the same sex for their life span
(gonochoristic) are in the minority.
There are many different patterns for sex-change.
Some species will begin life as males and switch
to females (protandry), and others switch from female to male
Further still, some will change sex in both directions, and others will
be both sexes at the same time.
Sex-change therefore becomes quite fascinating from several different perspectives.
From the behavioral standpoint, how does a fully functional female behaviorally
become a male in a matter of hours, followed by a physiological and anatomical
change to functionally become the opposite sex. The endocrine system is most likely
responsible for this changing ability, but the hormones have yet to be identified.
Also yet to be identified are the chromosomes and genetic sequences responsible
for allowing this sexual plasticity.

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