Oviparous Definition

An oviparous animal is one that produces eggs, and the young hatch after being expelled from the body. While fertilization of the egg can occur internally or externally, oviparous animals always hatch their young outside of their body. 

Many amphibians, birds, fish and reptiles are oviparous and often make nests to protect their eggs. This can be contrasted to ovoviviparous animals, which hatch eggs inside of their bodies, then expel live young. This can be seen in some sharks, snakes, and other animals.

Being oviparous is an evolutionary strategy for reproduction. In this strategy, one or many eggs can be produced. Each egg is a gamete that has the female’s contribution of the genetic material. In many species, the male supplies his gamete in the form of sperm, which must find its way to the egg. 

Once fertilized, the cells within the egg will begin to subdivide as an embryo is formed. Many oviparous animals choose to make many small, fragile eggs. Other oviparous animals choose to protect a few very strong, large eggs. There are advantages to both. Many eggs results in many offspring at once, and many offspring can overcome a few predators. 

On the other hand, a large protected egg increased the development of the offspring and the chances it will survive until birth. This advantage may make the offspring large enough to escape potential predators and accidents after birth.

Much like the other reproductive strategies, being oviparous has its downsides as well. Unlike viviparous and ovoviviparous animals which carry their developing young with them, oviparous animals must protect or hide their eggs for the duration of development. 

Many birds must sit on their eggs frequently to keep them warm, or even constantly in the case of cold-climate birds like penguins. In the case of animals that don’t watch their eggs, there is always the chance of a predator stumbling upon the nest and eating their whole clutch (batch of eggs).

Examples of Oviparous

Oviparous Birds

The most recognizable oviparous animal is the chicken. Chickens develop an egg in one of their ovaries, which will descend to be laid whether or not it becomes fertilized. If it does become fertilized, the young embryo develops inside the egg, feeding off of the nutrient-rich yolk sack inside the egg. 

Once mostly developed, the small bird hatches, ready to walk and eat. Birds are oviparous in general, and lay hard-shelled eggs that have been fertilized internally. Many of the young are precocial, or have the ability to walk and feed immediately upon hatching.

Oviparous Reptiles

Reptiles use very similar methods of developing their young. The main difference is that reptile eggs often have a much softer shell, often leathery to the touch. Still, like birds, the eggs are incubated in a nest. Where birds prefer to sit on their nests to provide warmth to the eggs, reptiles tend to bury their eggs completely in burrows or mounded nests. 

This tends to keep the eggs at a stable temperature. Reptiles tend to need a stable environment for their eggs because the sex of the young is dependent on the temperature during critical periods of the embryotic development. This is known as temperature dependent sex determination.

Oviparous Fish and Amphibians

While birds and reptiles use internal fertilization, it is not necessary to be oviparous. Many female fish lay eggs in a nest. The males immediately swoop in to fertilize the eggs by casting their sperm over the nest. In this case both male and female cast their gametes (eggs and sperm) into the environment in the hopes that they will find each other. 

Some fish are very successful in this, and have complex nests and mating strategies to ensure the gametes meet. Other fish use complex mating dances to release their gametes in unison, thereby increasing the chances of fertilization.

Most amphibians are oviparous as well, laying their eggs in ponds or other sources of standing water. Fertilization in amphibians is mostly external. Unlike reptiles and birds, amphibians often emerge from the egg in a larval form. This form has a tail and gills, which allow it to continue developing in the pond or body of water it was born in. Eventually the tadpole or larva will metamorphose into the adult form, losing its tail and growing large limbs.

Related Biology Terms

  • Ovoviviparous – A reproductive strategy in which an animal forms an egg, the egg is fertilized and develops inside of the egg, inside of the female, then live young are hatched from the female. In this method embryos feed off of the yolk sack inside of the egg.
  • Viviparous – A reproductive strategy in which an animal fertilizes a gamete inside of the female. The gamete then develops in a special chamber, such as a uterus in mammals, or a chamber in which nutrients are circulated.
  • Precocial – Newborns with the ability to move and eat. Often in birds and reptiles, these young are able to make calls to find their parents.
  • Gametes – The single reproductive unit of any sexually reproducing animal. A gamete has only half of the genetic material needed to create an entire organism, in the case of mammals: egg and sperm.


What does it mean to be oviparous?

To be oviparous means to reproduce by laying eggs that hatch outside of the body. This is in contrast to viviparous animals, which give birth to live young that develop inside the body.

What are some examples of oviparous animals?

Many different types of animals are oviparous, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and some invertebrates such as insects and arachnids. Some well-known examples of oviparous animals include chickens, turtles, snakes, and frogs.

How do oviparous animals care for their eggs?

The amount of parental care provided by oviparous animals varies widely depending on the species. Some oviparous animals, such as turtles and birds, provide a significant amount of parental care by incubating their eggs and protecting their young after they hatch. Other oviparous animals, such as most fish, provide little to no parental care.

What are some advantages of being oviparous?

Being oviparous has several advantages for animals. One advantage is that it allows for greater mobility, as the eggs can be laid in a variety of environments without the need for a specialized reproductive structure. Additionally, oviparous animals can produce a large number of eggs at once, which increases the chances that some of their offspring will survive to maturity. Finally, oviparous animals do not have to carry the extra weight of developing offspring inside their bodies, which can be energetically costly.

Leave a Comment