Most mammals are viviparous, giving birth to live young. However, the five species of monotreme, the platypuses and the echidnas, lay eggs. The monotremes have a sex determination system different from that of most other mammals. In particular, the sex chromosomes of a platypus are more like those of a chicken than those of a therian mammal.
The mammary glands of mammals are specialized to produce milk, a liquid used by newborns as their primary source of nutrition. The monotremes branched early from other mammals and do not have the nipples seen in most mammals, but they do have mammary glands. The young lick the milk from a mammary patch on the mother's belly.
Viviparous mammals are in the subclass Theria; those living today are in the marsupial and placental infraclasses. A marsupial has a short gestation period, typically shorter than its estrous cycle, and gives birth to an undeveloped newborn that then undergoes further development; in many species, this takes place within a pouch-like sac, the marsupium, located in the front of the mother's abdomen. The placentals give birth to complete and fully developed young, usually after long gestation periods.
Male placental mammals
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The mammalian male reproductive system contains two main divisions, the penis and the testicles, the latter of which is where sperm are produced. In humans, both of these organs are outside the abdominal cavity, but they can be primarily housed within the abdomen in other animals. For instance, a dog's penis is covered by a penile sheath except when mating. Having the testicles outside the abdomen best facilitates temperature regulation of the sperm, which require specific temperatures to survive. The external location may also cause a reduction in the heat-induced contribution to the spontaneous mutation rate in male germinal tissue. Sperm are the smaller of the two gametes and are generally very short-lived, requiring males to produce them continuously from the time of sexual maturity until death. The produced sperm are stored in the epididymis until ejaculation. The sperm cells are motile and they swim using tail-like flagella to propel themselves towards the ovum. The sperm follows temperature gradients (thermotaxis) and chemical gradients (chemotaxis) to locate the ovum.
Female placental mammals
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The mammalian female reproductive system likewise contains two main divisions: the vagina and uterus, which act as the receptacle for the sperm, and the ovaries, which produce the female's ova. All of these parts are always internal. The vagina is attached to the uterus through the cervix, while the uterus is attached to the ovaries via the Fallopian tubes. At certain intervals, the ovaries release an ovum, which passes through the fallopian tube into the uterus.
If, in this transit, it meets with sperm, the egg selects sperm with which to merge; this is termed fertilization. The fertilization usually occurs in the oviducts, but can happen in the uterus itself. The zygote then implants itself in the wall of the uterus, where it begins the processes of embryogenesis and morphogenesis. When developed enough to survive outside the womb, the cervix dilates and contractions of the uterus propel the fetus through the birth canal, which is the vagina.
The ova, which are the female sex cells, are much larger than the sperm and are normally formed within the ovaries of the fetus before its birth. They are mostly fixed in location within the ovary until their transit to the uterus, and contain nutrients for the later zygote and embryo. Over a regular interval, in response to hormonal signals, a process of oogenesis matures one ovum which is released and sent down the Fallopian tube. If not fertilized, this egg is released through menstruation in humans and other great apes, and reabsorbed in other mammals in the estrus cycle.
Gestation, called pregnancy in humans, is the period of time during which the fetus develops, dividing via mitosis inside the female. During this time, the fetus receives all of its nutrition and oxygenated blood from the female, filtered through the placenta, which is attached to the fetus' abdomen via an umbilical cord. This drain of nutrients can be quite taxing on the female, who is required to ingest slightly higher levels of calories. In addition, certain vitamins and other nutrients are required in greater quantities than normal, often creating abnormal eating habits. The length of gestation, called the gestation period, varies greatly from species to species; it is 40 weeks in humans, 56–60 in giraffes and 16 days in hamsters.
Once the fetus is sufficiently developed, chemical signals start the process of birth, which begins with contractions of the uterus and the dilation of the cervix. The fetus then descends to the cervix, where it is pushed out into the vagina, and eventually out of the female. The newborn, which is called an infant in humans, should typically begin respiration on its own shortly after birth. Not long after, the placenta is passed as well. Most mammals eat this, as it is a good source of protein and other vital nutrients needed for caring for the young. The end of the umbilical cord attached to the young's abdomen eventually falls off on its own.
Monotremes, only five species of which exist, all from Australia and New Guinea, are mammals that lay eggs. They have one opening for excretion and reproduction called the cloaca. They hold the eggs internally for several weeks, providing nutrients, and then lay them and cover them like birds.
Marsupials' reproductive systems differ markedly from those of placental mammals. The female develops a kind of yolk sac in her womb which delivers nutrients to the embryo. Embryos of some marsupials additionally form placenta-like organs that connect them to the uterine wall, although it is not certain that they transfer nutrients from the mother to the embryo. Pregnancy is very short, typically 4 to 5 weeks, and the embryo is born at a very young stage of development.
Outline of reproduction by species
- Carnivora#Reproductive system
- Fossa (animal)#Breeding
- Reproductive behavior of canids
- Reproductive behavior of spotted hyenas
- Reproductive behavior of pinnipeds
- Reproductive behavior of lions
- Reproductive behavior of raccoons
- Sea otter#Reproduction and lifecycle
- Reproductive behavior of dolphins
- Rut (mammalian reproduction)
- Reproductive behavior of kangaroos
- Opossum#Reproduction and life cycle
- Koala#Reproduction and development
- Tammar wallaby#Breeding and development
- Southwestern pygmy possum#Reproduction
- Marsh rice rat#Reproduction and life cycle
- Mammal reproductive system
- Sexual reproduction#Mammals
- Sex organ#Mammals
- Human reproduction
- Animal sexual behavior#Mammals
- Pregnancy (mammals)
- Equine reproductive system
- Carnivora#Reproductive system
- Canine reproduction
- Dolphin#Reproduction and sexuality
- Domestic sheep reproduction
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- Bahat, Anat; Tur-Kaspa, Ilan; Gakamsky, Anna; Giojalas, Laura C.; Breitbart, Haim; Eisenbach, Michael (2003). "Thermotaxis of mammalian sperm cells: A potential navigation mechanism in the female genital tract". Nature Medicine 9 (2): 149–50. doi:10.1038/nm0203-149. PMID 12563318. Lay summary – Science Daily (3 February 2003).
- Iowa State University Biology Dept. Discoveries about Marsupial Reproduction Anna King 2001. webpage (note shows code, html extension omitted)
- "Family Peramelidae (bandicoots and echymiperas)".