Animals are a major group of mostly multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and independently. All animals are also heterotrophs, meaning they must ingest other organisms for sustenance.
Most known animal phyla appeared in the fossil record as marine species during the Cambrian explosion, about 542 million years ago.
Reproduction and development
Nearly all animals undergo some form of sexual reproduction. They have a few specialized reproductive cells, which undergo meiosis to produce smaller motile spermatozoa or larger non-motile ova. These fuse to form zygotes, which develop into new individuals.
Many animals are also capable of asexual reproduction. This may take place through parthenogenesis, where fertile eggs are produced without mating, or in some cases through fragmentation.
A zygote initially develops into a hollow sphere, called a blastula, which undergoes rearrangement and differentiation. In sponges, blastula larvae swim to a new location and develop into a new sponge. In most other groups, the blastula undergoes more complicated rearrangement. It first invaginates to form a gastrula with a digestive chamber, and two separate germ layers – an external ectoderm and an internal endoderm. In most cases, a mesoderm also develops between them. These germ layers then differentiate to form tissues and organs.
Food and energy sourcing
All animals are heterotrophs, meaning that they feed directly or indirectly on other living things. They are often further subdivided into groups such as carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, and parasites.
Predation is a biological interaction where a predator (a heterotroph that is hunting) feeds on its prey (the organism that is attacked). Predators may or may not kill their prey prior to feeding on them, but the act of predation always results in the death of the prey. The other main category of consumption is detritivory, the consumption of dead organic matter. It can at times be difficult to separate the two feeding behaviours, for example where parasitic species prey on a host organism and then lay their eggs on it for their offspring to feed on its decaying corpse. Selective pressures imposed on one another has led to an evolutionary arms race between prey and predator, resulting in various antipredator adaptations.
Most animals feed indirectly from the energy of sunlight. Plants use this energy to convert sunlight into simple sugars using a process known as photosynthesis. Starting with the molecules carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O), photosynthesis converts the energy of sunlight into chemical energy stored in the bonds of glucose (C6H12O6) and releases oxygen (O2). These sugars are then used as the building blocks which allow the plant to grow. When animals eat these plants (or eat other animals which have eaten plants), the sugars produced by the plant are used by the animal. They are either used directly to help the animal grow, or broken down, releasing stored solar energy, and giving the animal the energy required for motion. This process is known as glycolysis.
Animals who live close to hydrothermal vents and cold seeps on the ocean floor are not dependent on the energy of sunlight. Instead chemosynthetic archaea and bacteria form the base of the food chain.
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