Comparative Morphology of Mammalian Gametes

  • David M. Phillips
  • Gil L. Dryden


Among mammals there is a wide variation in gamete structure—particularly of male gametes. Interspecies differences exist on the gross level in the lengths and widths of spermatozoa and in the shapes of sperm heads. On the ultrastructural level the morphological characteristics of intracellular organelles vary widely. The degree of morphological variation in spermatozoa between different mammalian groups is so great that a number of workers have used sperm morphology as a phylogenetic trait (Harding et al., 1981, 1982; Vitullo et al., 1988, Breed and Inns, 1985; Friend, 1936; Hirth, 1960; Helm and Bowers, 1973; Linzey and Layne, 1974; Breed and Sarafis, 1979; Feito and Gallardo, 1982). What is the relevance of the wide range of sperm morphology to the fertilization process? Although the morphology of spermatozoa has been characterized in hundreds of mammalian species at the light microscopic level and in dozens of species at the EM level, fertilization has been studied in relatively few species, and even in these species the characterization is largely incomplete. It is easy to see why this is so when one considers the enormous technical problems involved in mating wild mammals and then catching the one fertilizing spermatozoon at the moment of contact with the egg in a thin section. In this chapter we compare the morphology of gametes among mammals. We consider why there is so much variation in sperm morphology and how it could relate to the fertilization process. We do not describe the surface of the mammalian spermatozoon or the sperm tail, because these are discussed in Chapter 3.


Zona Pellucida Cumulus Cell Sperm Head Sperm Morphology Cortical Granule 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • David M. Phillips
    • 1
  • Gil L. Dryden
    • 2
  1. 1.The Population CouncilNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Biology DepartmentSlippery Rock UniversitySlippery RockUSA

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