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Reproductive System of Animals

In many invertebrate species individual animals bear both testes and ovaries (see Hermaphroditism). In some invertebrates, and in most vertebrates, individuals bear either testes or ovaries, but not both sets of organs. In invertebrates, a single animal may have as many as 26 pairs of gonads; in vertebrates, the usual number is 2. Cyclostomes and most birds are unusual among vertebrates in possessing only a single gonad; owls, pigeons, hawks, and parrots are unusual among birds in having two gonads. The size of gonads increases at sexual maturity because of the great number of germ cells produced at that time; many germ cells are also produced during breeding seasons so that many animals have a seasonal increase in size of the gonads. During the breeding season of fish, the ovaries increase in size until they constitute about one-quarter to one-third of the total body weight.

The testes and ovaries of mature animals differ greatly in structure. The testes are composed of delicate convoluted tubules, known as seminiferous tubules, in which the primitive germ cells mature into spermatozoa. The testes of mammals are generally oval bodies, enclosed by a capsule of tough connective tissue. Projections from this tough capsule into the testis divide the testis into several compartments, each of which is filled with hundreds of seminiferous tubules. The mature spermatozoa are discharged through a number of ducts, called the efferent ducts, which communicate with the epididymis, a thick-walled, coiled duct in which the sperm are stored.

In all vertebrates below marsupials on the zoological scale, and in elephants, sea cows, and whales, the testis remains within the body cavity during the lifetime of the animals. In many mammals, such as rodents, bats, and members of the camel family, the testis remains within the body cavity during periods of quiescence, but moves into an external pocket of skin and muscle, known as the scrotum, during the breeding season. In marsupials, and in most higher mammals, including the human male, the testes are always enclosed in an external scrotum. During fetal life, the testes move through the muscles composing the posterior, ventral portion of the trunk and carry with them the portion of the peritoneum and skin surrounding these muscles. The channel in the muscles through which the testis moves is known as the inguinal canal; it usually closes after birth, but sometimes remains open and is then often the site of herniation (see Hernia). The portion of the peritoneum that the testis carries with it forms a double wall of membrane between the scrotum and testis and is known as the tunica vaginalis. Occasionally, the testes in the human male do not descend into the scrotal sac; this condition of nondescent, which is known as cryptorchidism, may result in sterility if not corrected by surgery or the administration of hormones. Retention of the testes within the body cavity subjects the germ cells to temperatures that are too high for their normal development; the descent of the testes into the scrotum in higher animals keeps the testes at optimum temperatures.