The past decade has witnessed a tremendous increase in interest in polyploidy, which may partly be related to the development of new powerful genetic and genomic tools. These have provided numerous insights into mainly genetic and genomic consequences of polyploidy, dramatically improving our understanding of the dynamics of the polyploidization process and its importance as a mechanism in animal evolution. In contrast, several other aspects of polyploidization, such as physiology, ecology and development, have received considerably less attention. Our aim is not to make an exhaustive review of current knowledge about animal polyploidy, but rather to thoroughly elaborate on some very fundamental questions which still remain open or even neglected. In particular, we show that properties of new polyploid lineages largely depend upon the proximate way in which they arose, but the evolutionary pathways to polyploidy are often unresolved. To help researchers orientate amongst the number of pathways to polyploidy, we provide an extensive review of particular scenarios proposed in distinct animal taxa. We discuss how polyploidy relates to hybridization, particularly with respect to asexuality, and elaborate on whether clonal triploids may help to overcome the constraints of aneuploidy, thereby serving as a triploid bridge towards the establishment of new polyploid species. We further show that in most animal asexual complexes clonal lineages may become established only under one ploidy level (usually either di- or triploidy), and that it is rather rare to see the coexistence of successful clones of different ploidies. We discuss why the rate of polyploidization is higher in some taxa than in others, and what tools we have to evaluate the rate of polyploidization. Finally, we review some of the immediate physiological and developmental effects of polyploidy which are related to the genome size/cell size relation and show how studies of polyploidy may enhance the study of macroecology and developmental biology. See also the sister article focusing on plants by Weiss-Schneeweiss et al. in this themed issue.