Written by Thomas Godwin
Updated: May 2, 2023
Image Credit © Alex Stemmers/Shutterstock.com


The basic definition of hermaphrodite is an organism that has both male and female reproductive organs. In botanical terms, it is a plant that has a stamen and a pistil within the same flower. Though the term applies to characteristics in some definitions, it’s more of a sociological descriptor, rather than a biological one.

Hermaphrodite Humans

True hermaphroditism, also known as intersex, is exceedingly rare among humans. True hermaphroditism occurs when mixed histological features are present. For instance, when a human carries at least one teste and one ovary, it’s an example of mixed histological features.

However, a single ovary and a single teste are not the only examples of traits that qualify for the hermaphrodite application. There are four categories of hermaphroditism.

  • Bilateral
  • Unilateral
  • Lateral
  • Indeterminate


Everything surrounding hermaphroditism is based on two sides. A simple example is the presence of two testes in a male, one on the left and one on the right. Bilateral hermaphroditism means that both ovarian and testicular tissues are present on both sides.


For unilateral hermaphroditism to occur, the contralateral side must have a regular teste or ovary, while the other side must have an ovotestis.


The simplest descriptor of hermaphroditism is lateral hermaphroditism. This means one side contains an ovary and one side contains a teste.


When all the factors of hermaphroditism are present but it can’t be determined if it’s bilateral, unilateral, or lateral.

Hermaphrodite Animals

Slowest Animals: Garden Snail
Garden snails are exclusively hermaphrodites. When two of them mate, they exchange sperm.

©Alexander Raths/Shutterstock.com

Where hermaphroditism is very rare and often problematic in humans, it’s more common and, in many cases, natural in the animal world. For instance, 21 species of fish are natural hermaphrodites. Snails are hermaphrodites more often than not, though they still need to mate.

Sand dollars, sea urchins, starfish, and sea cucumbers are often hermaphrodites, and it’s common among most echinoderms. While worms need to mate to reproduce, in most instances, hermaphroditism is quite common among various species of worm.

Outside of mutations, there are no mammals that are considered to be hermaphrodites. In insects, it is very uncommon. It’s so uncommon that ideas focused on the possibilities of one or two species of hermaphrodite insects are controversial.

Hermaphroditism is far more common in invertebrates, fish, and plants. Many popular flowers are hermaphrodites, including roses, sunflowers, daffodils, lilies, magnolias, and more. Hermaphroditism is more common in plants and invertebrates than in anything else in the world.

Hermaphrodite Pronunciation

Hermaphrodite is pronounced: hur – ma – fruh – diet

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About the Author

Thomas is a freelance writer with an affinity for the great outdoors and Doberman Pinschers. When he's not sitting behind the computer, pounding out stories on black bears and reindeer, he's spending time with his family, two Dobermans (Ares and Athena), and a Ragdoll cat named Heimdal. He also tends his Appleyard Ducks and a variety of overly curious and occasionally vexatious chickens.