Previous electron microscope studies indicated that the individual spermatozoön of Hydroides hexagonus forms a hole in the vitelline membrane by means of lysis. Other observations established that the hole is real, being visible in living material during sperm entry.
During the present investigation sea water extracts from frozen-thawed sperm were tested for lytic effect on the membrane. In normal living eggs the membrane appears as a single thick envelope, but in electron micrographs of sections it is seen to consist of a narrow outer border layer, a wide principal or middle layer, and a narrow inner border layer. After immersion in sperm extract the outer border layer elevates but does not dissolve, the middle layer liquefies and disappears, and the inner border layer seems not to change. This is interpreted as lysis of the middle layer. The extract exerted the same effect on fertilized and unfertilized eggs.
In electron micrographs the sections treated with extract greatly resemble that part of the membrane which has been penetrated by the individual spermatozoön. It is concluded that the individual spermatozoön, too, exerts a lytic effect. Together, the present and two earlier studies are considered clearly to demonstrate that in Hydroides the individual spermatozoön does indeed make an entry hole in the egg membrane by applying lytic material to that part of the membrane in its own vicinity.