Atomic force microscopy has been used to investigate changes in the plasma membrane overlying the head region of mammalian spermatozoa (bull, boar, ram, goat, stallion, mouse, and monkey) during post-testicular development, after ejaculation, and after exocytosis of the acrosomal vesicle. On ejaculated ram, bull, boar, and goat spermatozoa the postacrosomal plasma membrane has a more irregular surface than that covering the acrosome. The equatorial segment, by contrast, is relatively smooth except for an unusual semicircular substructure within it that has a coarse uneven appearance. This substructure (referred to as the equatorial subsegment) is situated adjacent to the boundary between the postacrosomal region and the equatorial segment itself and seems to be confined to the order Artiodactyla as it has not been observed on stallion, mouse, or monkey spermatozoa. The equatorial subsegment develops during epididymal maturation, and following induction of the acrosome reaction with Ca(2+) ionophore A23187, its topography changes from a finely ridged appearance to that resembling truncated papillae. A monoclonal antibody to the equatorial subsegment binds only to permeabilized spermatozoa, suggesting that the subsegment is related to the underlying perinuclear theca that surrounds the sperm nucleus. A role for the equatorial subsegment in mediating fusion with the oolemma at fertilization is discussed.