In ovoviviparous animals, egg fertilization takes place internally as a result of copulation. Ovoviviparity is a mode of reproduction in animals like sharks in which the embryos develop inside eggs that are reserved within the motherâ€™s body until they are ready to hatch. Ovoviviparous sharks are similar to viviparous species as there is internal fertilization and the young are born live. The only difference is there is no placental connection and the unborn young are sustained by egg yolk. However, the mother does deliver gas exchange in both gases.
Ovoviviparous pups are continued and fed by the unfertilized egg yolk and secretions by the glands in the oviduct walls. Once the pups have developed adequately inside their eggs, they hatch into the oviduct. This usually occurs after three months. They continue to feed off the remaining egg yolk as well as the gland secretions. In some shark species, the first pup to hatch will eat the other eggs in the oviduct before they have the opportunity to hatch. This is referred to as intrauterine cannibalism. The Grey nurse shark pup will even eat the other embryos of its siblings. This creates a lifetime of hunting and displays the strong survival constitutions present in these beautiful killing machines.
The pups are able to progress better and for longer before being born into the ocean, where they will have to fend for themselves from the moment that they leave their motherâ€™s oviduct. It is also for the defense that these species most often give birth in sheltered bays or river mouths. These areas are usually free from other sharks and dangerous predators and have more abundantly available food sources than the open ocean.
There are two forms of within-the-womb cannibalism are known in sharks. The most exciting form of intrauterine cannibalism in which the largest and strongest embryo actually consumes its lesser womb-mates is termed “embryophagy” or, “adelphophagy”. It was exposed accidentally in 1948, when a researcher probing the uteri of a late-term Sandtiger Shark (Carcharias taurus) was startled by a bite on the hand. The less extreme and by far more common form of intrauterine cannibalism in which developing embryos feed on a steady supply of tiny, unfertilized eggs is termed “oophagy” The earliest documented case of oophagy dates back to 1907, in the Porbeagle (Lamna nasus). Both forms of intrauterine cannibalism continue throughout embryonic and fetal development, so that at birth each pup often has a noticeably swollen abdomen known as a “yolk stomach”.
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