Sheephead are Protogynous Hermaphrodies

Hermaphrodites are animals that start out as one sex and switches to the opposite sex at a point in their life. This process is called sequential hermaphroditism, differing from simultaneously hermaphroditism in which the animals can produce sperm and eggs at the same time. Protogynous hermaphroditism is the change in gender from a female to a male over some time. Protogyny is the most common form of hermaphroditism in which 75% of all sequentially hermaphroditic fish change to male in their lifespan.

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Wrasses are a common fish species of protogynous hermaphroditism, which belong to the Labridae family. The California sheephead, a type of wrasse, is an excellent example, born a female with light pink coloration and turning into a male after about 4-6 years. Male sheephead have two black stripes on the head and tail with bright red in the middle of their body. The ovaries degenerate and sperm appears in the gonads.


California sheephead form a harem of one large male and multiple smaller females. The primary role of the male is defending its territory against other males and to fertilize females in its territory. If the male dies whether being fished or natural causes, a female in the harem will undergo a sex change and can take anywhere from five days to two weeks transforming to a male. The new male will take the responsibilities of the previous male.


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