Spawn (biology)


Spawn is the eggs and sperm released or deposited into water by aquatic animals. As a verb, to spawn refers to the process of releasing the eggs and sperm, and the act of both sexes is called spawning. Most aquatic animals, except for aquatic mammals and reptiles, reproduce through the process of spawning.
Marine animals, and particularly bony fish, commonly reproduce by broadcast spawning. This is an external method of reproduction where the female releases many unfertilised eggs into the water. At the same time, a male or many males release a lot of sperm into the water which fertilises some of these eggs. The eggs contain a drop of nutrient oil to sustain the embryo as it develops inside the egg case. The oil also provides buoyancy, so the eggs float and drift with the current. The strategy for survival of broadcast spawning is to disperse the fertilised eggs, preferably away from the coast into the relative safety of the open ocean. There the larvae develop as they consume their fat stores, and eventually hatch from the egg capsule into miniature versions of their parents. To survive, they must then become miniature predators themselves, feeding on plankton. Fish eventually encounter others of their own kind (conspecifics), where they form aggregations and learn to school.
When the internal ovaries or egg masses of fish and certain marine animals are ripe for spawning they are called roe. Roe from certain species, such as shrimp, scallop, crab and sea urchins, are sought as human delicacies in many parts of the world. Caviar is a name for the processed, salted roe of non-fertilized sturgeon. The term soft roe or white roe denotes fish milt. Lobster roe is called coral because it turns bright red when cooked. Roe (reproductive organs) are usually eaten either raw or briefly cooked.
Polygyny occurs when one male gets exclusive mating rights with multiple females. In polygyny a large conspicuous male usually defends females from other males or defends a breeding site. The females choose large males that are successfully defending prime breeding sites which the females find attractive. For example, sculpin males defend "caves" underneath rocks which are suitable for the incubation of embryos.
Cuckoldry occurs in many fish species, including dragonets, parrotfishes and wrasses on tropical reefs and the bluegill sunfish in fresh water. Sneaker males that become too large to hide effectively become satellite males. With bluegill sunfish, satellite males mimic the behaviour and colouration of the females. They hover over a nest containing a pair of courting sunfish, and gradually descend to reach the pair just as they spawn. Males may need to be 6 or 7 years old to function capably as parental males, but may be able to function as sneaker or satellite males when they are as young as 2 or 3 years old. The smaller satellite and sneaker males may get mauled by the more powerful parental males, but they spawn when they are younger and they do not put energy into parental care.
Brood hiders hide their eggs but do not give parental care after they have hidden them. Brood hiders are mostly benthic spawners that bury the fertilized eggs. For example, among salmon and trout the female digs a nest with her tail in gravel. These nests are called redds. The female then lays her eggs while the male fertilizes them, while both fish defend the redd if necessary from other members of the same species. Then the female buries the nest, and the nest site is abandoned. In North America, some minnows build nests out of piles of stones rather than dig holes. The minnow males have tubercles on their head and body which they use to help them defend the nest site.
Guarders protect their eggs and offspring after spawning by practicing parental care (also called brood care). Parental care is an "investment by parents in offspring that increases the offspring's chances of surviving (and hence reproducing). In fish, parental care can take a variety of forms including guarding, nest building, fanning, splashing, removal of dead eggs, retrieval of straying fry, external egg carrying, egg burying, moving eggs or young, ectodermal feeding, oral brooding, internal gestation, brood-pouch egg carrying, etc.
Mouth brooders - carry eggs or larvae in their mouth. Mouth brooders can be ovophiles or larvophiles. Ovophile or egg-loving mouth-brooders lay their eggs in a pit, which are sucked up into the mouth of the female. The small number of large eggs hatch in the mother's mouth, and the fry remain there for a period of time. Fertilization often occurs with the help of egg-spots, which are colorful spots on the anal fin of the male. When the female sees these spots, she tries to pick up the egg-spots, but instead gets sperm that fertilizes the eggs in her mouth. Many cichlids and some labyrinth fish are ovophile mouthbrooders. Larvophile or larvae-loving mouth-brooders lay their eggs on a substrate and guard them until the eggs hatch. After hatching, the female picks up the fry and keeps them in her mouth. When the fry can fend for themselves, they are released. Some eartheaters are larvophile mouthbrooders.
Forage fish often make great migrations between their spawning, feeding and nursery grounds. Schools of a particular stock usually travel in a triangle between these grounds. For example, one stock of herrings have their spawning ground in southern Norway, their feeding ground in Iceland, and their nursery ground in northern Norway. Wide triangular journeys such as these may be important because forage fish, when feeding, cannot distinguish their own offspring.