Skip to Content

What is the biggest sperm?

Sperm come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the species. When looking at which species produces the largest sperm, the answer may surprise you. The biggest sperm actually comes from an insect – the humble fruit fly.

Why does sperm size vary?

Sperm size is highly variable across animal species, but why? There are a few key theories:

  • Fertilization environment – Animals that fertilize eggs externally in water tend to have longer sperm than those that fertilize internally. Longer sperm can “swim” better through water.
  • Mating system – Species where females mate with multiple males tend to have longer sperm to compete. Shorter sperm is found in monogamous species.
  • DNA content – The size of the haploid genome impacts sperm size. Species with larger genomes tend to have bigger sperm.

So sperm size relates heavily to the reproductive strategies and biology of each species. But which species has taken sperm size to the extreme?

Meet the record holders for largest sperm

Insects – Fruit flies

Most people expect the largest sperm to come from some giant whale, elephant or other massive mammal. But shockingly, the animal with the biggest known sperm is actually the tiny fruit fly.

Fruit fly sperm cells can reach lengths of almost 6 cm. That’s over 20 times longer than a human sperm cell!

In fact, fruit fly sperm are thought to be the longest single cells in the entire animal kingdom. If uncoiled, a single sperm cell would be over 1,000 times the length of the fly itself at just 5 mm long.

Why do fruit flies produce such enormous sperm? A few key reasons:

  • Mating system – Female fruit flies are very promiscuous, so males compete to fertilize eggs. Longer sperm help them compete.
  • Fertilization environment – Fruit fly sperm have to swim through water droplets to reach the egg.
  • Energy storage – The extra room in the giant sperm allows more energy-producing mitochondria to power the marathon swim to the egg.

So for fruit flies, producing gigantic sperm has become an essential evolutionary strategy to maximize their reproductive success.

Mammals – Mouse

You’d think the largest mammals would produce the biggest sperm. But oddly enough, the mammal with the largest sperm is one of the smallest – the common house mouse.

Mouse sperm measure up to 120 micrometers long, beating out sperm from bigger mammals like elephants, whales and humans:

Animal Sperm length
Mouse 120 micrometers
Elephant 70 micrometers
Whale 40 micrometers
Human 55 micrometers

Again, the mouse’s mating habits likely led to the evolution of giant sperm. Female mice mate frequently with multiple partners, so sperm compete vigorously for fertilization. Long sperm with larger energy reserves tend to perform better during competitive fertilization.

Reptiles – Argentine blue-bill lake duck

In the reptile world, an Argentine lake duck known as the rana de la plata holds the record for largest sperm. Their sperm measure in at a whopping 4.4 cm long!

Once again, the lake duck’s promiscuous mating system explains the massive sperm. Female ducks can store sperm inside them for months before fertilization. The huge duck sperm contain ample energy reserves to survive this lengthy storage time until fertilization occurs.

Fish – Elasmobranchii

When it comes to fish, sharks and rays far outsize other species for sperm length. Collectively known as Elasmobranchii, most sharks and rays have sperm ranging from 12 to 31 cm long.

The marine environment and external fertilization helps explain their giant sperm. The longer tails can propel sperm through the water during external spawning. Interestingly, deeper water sharks tend to have the longest sperm – possibly because sperm have to withstand greater pressure.

What are the smallest sperm?

At the opposite end of the spectrum, what animals produce the tiniest sperm? Here are some with the shortest sperm cells:

  • Chimpanzee – Just 35 micrometers
  • Chicken – Only 30 micrometers
  • Mouse lemur – A mere 15 micrometers
  • Hamster – Just 11 micrometers long

Notice the pattern? The smallest sperm tend to occur in animals that mate monogamously, like chimpanzees. With no need for sperm competition, these species evolved smaller, more efficient sperm.

Human sperm size

So where do humans fall when it comes to sperm size? Human sperm measure in at about 55 micrometers long from head to tail.

That places us well below record holders like fruit flies but well above other mammals like gorillas at just 49 micrometers. Considering our polygamous evolutionary history, our middling sperm size makes sense.

There is also high variability in sperm size within human males. Research shows that sperm length ranges from a tiny 32 micrometers to a giant 90 micrometers across individuals. But most men produce sperm averaging around 50-60 micrometers.

Does sperm size affect fertility?

With such massive variation in sperm sizes across species, an obvious question arises – does size matter for fertility?

Evidence shows sperm size does correlate with fertilization success. However, the relationship is quite complicated:

  • Intra-species – Larger sperm size within a species correlates with higher fertility. Longer sperm swim faster and live longer.
  • Inter-species – Between species, smaller sperm show higher concentration and mobility. For example, the tiny hamster sperm outperform human sperm despite their size.

So when comparing within a single species, bigger sperm have an advantage. But across species, smaller sperm may confer benefits due to their numbers and mobility.

Other factors like sperm competition and female choice also play key roles in determining fertility that interact with sperm size.


When it comes to the biggest sperm, the huge gametes of the fruit fly take first prize. This tiny insect produces giant sperm cells up to 6 cm long – over 20 times bigger than human sperm! Sharks and rays also impress with sperm lengths over 12 cm in some species.

Smallest sperm occur in monogamous, often smaller animals like chimps and hamsters. Surprisingly, the largest animals do not necessarily produce the longest sperm.

Sperm size correlates strongly with mating habits and fertilization environment. Promiscuous species like mice evolved big sperm loaded with energy to compete. Externally fertilizing fish also have giant sperm to swim through water.

But between species, smaller sperm can confer advantages through improved concentration and mobility. So sometimes, tiny sperm perform mightily despite their size.

While size impacts performance, it does not solely determine fertility success. Other factors like female choice and sperm competition interact with size in complex ways.

So when looking across the animal kingdom, bigger sperm clearly aren’t always better. Evolution tailors sperm size precisely to suit each species’ reproductive needs.