- "Bilateral symmetry" redirects here. For bilateral symmetry in mathematics, see reflection symmetry.
Symmetry in biology is the balanced distribution of duplicate body parts or shapes. The body plans of most multicellular organisms exhibit some form of symmetry, either radial symmetry or bilateral symmetry. A small minority exhibit no symmetry (are asymmetric).
These organisms resemble a pie where several cutting planes produce roughly identical pieces. An organism with radial symmetry exhibits no left or right sides. They have a top and a bottom (dorsal and ventral surface) only. Radial also means there is only one plane in which symmetry exists.
Most radially symmetric animals are symmetrical about an axis extending from the center of the oral surface, which contains the mouth, to the center of the opposite, or aboral, end. This type of symmetry is especially suitable for sessile animals such as the sea anemone, floating animals such as jellyfish, and slow moving organisms such as starfish (see special forms of radial symmetry). Animals in the phyla cnidaria and echinodermata exhibit radial symmetry. Cnidarians are one of the simplest animal forms on this planet.
Special forms of radial symmetry
Many jellyfish have four radial root canals and thus exhibit tetramerous radial symmetry. This form of radial symmetry means it can be divided into 4 equal parts.
This variant of radial symmetry (also called pentaradial and pentagonal symmetry) arranges roughly equal parts around a central axis at orientations of 72° apart.
Members of the phyla echinodermata (such as starfish and sea urchins) have parts arranged around the axis of the mouth in five equal sectors. Being bilaterian animals however, they initially develop biradially as larvae, then gain pentaradial symmetry later on. The radiolarians demonstrate a remarkable array of pentamerism forms. Examples include the Pentaspheridae, the Pentinastrum group of general in the Euchitoniidae, and Cicorrhegma (Circoporidae).
Flowering plants demonstrate symmetry of five more frequently than any other form.
Around 1510–1516 A.D., Leonardo da Vinci determined that in many plants a sixth leaf stands above the first. This arrangement later became known as 2/5 phyllotaxy, a system where repetitions of five leaves occur in two turns of the axis. This is the most common of all patterns of leaf arrangement.
Various fruits also demonstrate pentamerism, a good example of which is seen in the arrangement of the seed carpels in an apple.
Hexamerism and octamerism
Corals and sea anemones (class Anthozoa) are divided into two groups based on their symmetry. The most common corals in the subclass Hexacorallia have a hexameric body plan; their polyps have sixfold internal symmetry and the number of their tentacles is a multiple of six.
Corals belonging to the subclass Octocorallia have polyps with eight tentacles and octameric radial symmetry.
In bilateral symmetry (also called plane symmetry), only one plane, called the sagittal plane, will divide an organism into roughly mirror image halves (with respect to external appearance only, see situs solitus). Thus there is approximate reflection symmetry. Often the two halves can meaningfully be referred to as the right and left halves, e.g. in the case of an animal with a main direction of motion in the plane of symmetry.
Bilateral symmetry permits streamlining, favors the formation of a central nerve center, contributes to cephalization, and promotes actively moving organisms. Bilateral symmetry is an aspect of both chordates and vertebrates.
- Fact Monster
- Heads, Michael. "Principia Botanica: Croizat's Contribution to Botany." Tuatara 27.1 (1984): 26-48.
- Zoology a website by the Monaco educational service
- Live Science.com article called "Symmetry in Nature: Fundamental Fact or Human Bias?" By Ker Than
- Evolutionary Theories of Asymmetrization of Organisms, Brain and Body