Are there any organisms with multiple sexes, if so which ones

I recently asked my ecology prof, during a lecture on the evolution of mating
systems, If there exists any animals with more than 2 sexes. I vaguely recall
reading something about it, (in a book called “what if you could
unscramble an egg.”) And one other fellow also seemed somewhat familiar
with the topic… But All we we got were alot of laughs.

Im not talking about Hermaphroditism, spontaneous sex change, or the existance
in a population of a non breeding group, (ex. worker Bees and worker ants.)

What I wanna know is, is there Genuinely a population of organism that has more
than 2 sexes, in which all sexes are involved, and each has a disntinctly
different role in reproduction.

If there is I would also like to know how this would work, and Under what
conditions would this prove to be selectively advantageous.

Ive tried looking this up on the internet with very little success, and entering
the words “Multiple sexes animals” only led me to an unwanted
awareness of the exsistance of various rather unsavory subcultures.

Any help on this matter would be greatly appreciated… Thanks in advance.

I suppose you could consider social insects as having three sexes. Female queens lay eggs and which were fertilized by male drones. Sterile workers provide all the labor required to make the eggs hatch.

If you’re talking about a species where three separate genders all contribute genetic material to the next generation, I’ve never heard of any outside of science fiction.

Dr. Lao… Please read my question carefully…

I stated that "Im not talking about Hermaphroditism, spontaneous sex change, or the existance
in a population of a non breeding group, (ex. worker Bees and worker ants.)

In terms of your answer,… I am referring to the latter… a species whith more than 2 sexes in which all contribute genetic material.

I have read that this applies to slime molds, but Im not sure if that’s true… any higher animals…

I recall some “science popularization” material I read years ago in which prokaryotes were noted as “coming in six sexes” in that each contributes different material to a conjugation – the only form of “sexual reproduction” (as opposed to fission or budding) that they do. I’d welcome some better data from a microbiologist on whether this is true or misrepresentative of the reality.

Both bacteria and fungi are capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction, and in the case of sexual reproduction they have, technically, more than two sexes.

Unlike every other living organism (pretty much, bar a few exceptions the OP has already ruled out) they have more than two ‘sexes’ although, when we refer to the ‘sex’ of a fungi, we are actually referring to genetic markers, rather than clear sexual characteristics or reproductive strategies.

The genetic markers essentially say “I am different”, and prevent self fertilisation (under certain circumstances) amongst other things. Behavourally, however, they are identical.

So if you’re asking “in the most simplistic way possible, are there more than two sexes in any species” the answer is yes - fungi and bacteria, but if you’re asking “are there more than two types of reproductive strategy” the answer is…still yes!

Several species, most notably fish, have three or more reproductive behaviours - the most common being a sort of IIRC (and I’m callign up lecture material from quite a while ago now) guppy, which has three forms, alpha-male, beta-male and female. The alpha male corrals females in a harem, and protects them, and the beta male, which is coloured like a female, and much smaller than the alpha, pretends to be a female, and gets into the harem in disguise.

Equally, there are some crusteaceans (barnacles, possibly) who also exhibit several reproductive ‘strategies’ - also called alpha, beta and gamma.

IIRC, these reproductive behaviours are genetically programmed, and do not switch over a guppies’ life time - on the other hand, the mechanism of fertilisation, the gametes involved, are identical, whether it’s an alpha or beta male and a female involved.

So if you’re asking “are there more than two sexes with distinct reproductive strategies AND differently marked gametes?” the answer is no.

If you google for “sexual dimorphism” and skip all the socio-biological sites,you should find some useful links.

Primroses (primula vulgaris) have flowers that bear both male and female organs, but within the species there are also two different types of plant, known as pin-flowered (where the stigma(female organ) protrudes from the flower tube and the anthers(male organs) are hidden inside) and thrum-flowered where the arrangement is reversed.
AFAIK These aren’t subspecies or varieties any more than you could say male and female humans are different subspecies.

The result of this is that a thrum-flowered plant deposits pollen on the head of a visiting insect - where it can only really be picked up by a pin-flowered plant. A pin-flowered plant deposits pollen on the proboscis of a visiting insect, where it can only really be picked up by a thrum-flowered plant.

Not exactly what you were looking for, I know, but it is an interesting example of a scenario where clearly defined criteria apply beyond the simple interaction of male and female.

This thing has several sexual stages and is still not completely understood by science and has possibly the most complex life cycle of any creature. It is a completely new life form and a new phylum unknown before it was discovered in 1995.

A Lobster’s Microscopic Friend - Symbion pandora - a new life form and a new phylum

What can I search for to learn more about this?

What **Angelfish ** said.
This link is full of Latin polysyllables that can be used to start a Google search.

Yes, there is an animal with 12 sexes. Was that a fungi? Someone already asked this question on the board & I forgot which animal I listed as 12, it was part of one of those boring lectures we have at the aquarium…

I’d look it up but my search engine isn’t…searching

Thank for the replies,… but with the fish, crustaceans and primroses examples…

Males are males, Females are females. Males regardless if they are Alpha or Beta, or the fact that they may once be females, produce Sperm, Females produce eggs, or ovules in the case of flowers.

Is there a species with at least one sex beyond male or female, (not hermaphrodite or sterile) that has a distinct role in reproduction that differs from both the male and female

If there is, Under what conditions would this evolve and prove to be an atvantage over other matiung stratgies…

I m sure Ive heard of one, i wanna know more about the fungi example too…

Thank you… :smiley:

The following information comes from Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, by Matt Ridley

According to Ridley in 1991 Laurence Hurst of Oxford found a species of slime-mold with thirteen genders. But only two have to have sex to have offspring. Gender 13 is always contributes organnelles as well as other genetic information. Gender 12 contributes organelles unless the other partner is gender 13. Gender 11 contributes organelles unless the other partner is of genders 12 or 13 and so on down the line to gender 1. How the gender of the offspring is determined I have no idea.
Saying more than two genders but no hermaphrodites may not make sense, as there are plants with male, female, and hermaphrodite parts. Although apparently there does tend to be pressure towards having only two genders.

I am not sure there are any species in which genetic material from more than two genders are required. (I guess that is the question)

Since every living thing on the planet has one thing in common (DNA) it is physically impossible for there to be three genders required for sexual reproduction. The reason is simple: sexual reproduction is defined as a situation where both parents contribute genetic material to the offspring. DNA is made up of those base pairs not triplets. (the “double” helix)

So the answer to the original OP is “no”.

Three sexes would, it seems to me, be even more complicated than two, which sounds like a major strike against it. In some respects, one is preferable from the standpoint of passing on genetic material.

Of course, I’m fine with the present system. :slight_smile:

To humanity’s credit, we’ve managed to wring quite a lot of complication out of the bicameral :wink: gender thing.

Related to the OP, but off on a tangent:

I once read a weird SF book (I think it was called Warbirds) which featured an alien society with, IIRC, five social classes.

True males
True females
Neuter males
Neuter females
True neuters

The true males and females were the only ones capable of reproducing - and they produced true neuters.

Neuter males and neuter females had the parts, but were sterile.

As I recall, the neuters moved up as need demanded - if there weren’t enough true males, neuter males had physiological changes that made them true males. I don’t recall what the explanation was for how that worked (if there was one).

I’d recommend that book on the society alone. The rest of it just plain sucked.

Well yes, you have the human heterosexual male & human female and the gay male & gay female. The hetrosexuals mate and reproduce and the gay’s adopt. Of course there are variations.

It’s not the case that one of the base pairs is from the mother and the other is from the father. You have one complete set of base pairs from each parent. There’s no physical reason you couldn’t have three copies of each chromosome, one from each of your three parents.

The idea shows up in science fiction every now and then. Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves involves tri-sexual aliens. There was a story about multi-sexual (seven sexes?) aliens in Playboy 15 or so years ago, and National Lampoon ran a comic in which something like ten sexes were required for the sex act. Reading the strip, you quickly realized why this kind of thing didn’t happen in real life – too hard to assemble the necessary participants.

If some race really did require more than two sexes, it would probably be more like the TV series Alien Nation, where onlt two of them had to get together at a time – easier to arrange (just as two-body interactions rather than three-body ones dominate chemistry).

I remember it being mentioned in one of my college biology courses that there was some organism with multiple sexes. Possibly it was what Polycarp, handy, or MMI referred to. I believe the course was Invertebrates, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

What I remember is that there were 6 or 8 sexes, and reproduction could occur by mating with any different sex. In other words, a sex A could mate with a sex B, or a sex C, or a sex D, etc., but could not mate with another sex A.

Sorry I don’t have anything more than that. It was brought up once briefly in class, 30 years ago.