When spermatozoa of Arbacia punctulata are labeled with 32P and treated with soluble egg jelly, radiolabel is incorporated into histone H3. The time course of labeling correlates with the period of chromatin decondensation of sperm pronuclei in eggs. Phosphorylation is on serine and may result from increased turnover of phosphate on H3. The macromolecular fraction of egg jelly (and not the peptide fraction) is the inducer of H3 phosphorylation. The reaction is dependent on external Ca2+ and is induced by monensin and A23187. H3 phosphorylation is not induced by the phosphodiesterase inhibitor IBMX and relatively high (250 microM) concentrations of the protein kinase inhibitor H8 are needed to block the reaction, suggesting that it is cAMP independent. A surprising finding is that merely diluting the cells into Na+ free media is the most effective method to induce the radiolabeling of H3. These results are in contrast to findings on the egg jelly induced phosphorylation of histone H1 in S. purpuratus spermatozoa. These species differences must reflect the great evolutionary divergence between these two sea urchin species in the mechanism of regulation of the phosphorylation of nuclear proteins during fertilization.