Although a large number of maternal factors are known to be essential for fertilization or the earliest stages of embryogenesis in Drosophila melanogaster, the role of paternally supplied products is not clearly understood. Paternal effect mutations provide a means to identify factors specifically required by the sperm after its entry into the egg. Here we describe the third strict paternal effect gene to be identified in Drosophila ms(3)sneaky(snky), which defines the earliest developmental arrest phenotype so far described. Characterization of two independently isolated snky mutations showed that they affected male fertility, but not viability or female fertility. Cytological analyses showed that spermatogenesis proceeded normally in snky males. However, the snky defect was evident after sperm entry into the egg; snky sperm did not undergo nuclear decondensation, form a functional male pronucleus, or initiate mitotic divisions in the egg. Immunolocalization of tubulin and Drosophila Centrosomin, a known centrosomal component, showed that snky-inseminated eggs failed to reconstitute a microtubule-organizing center. In addition, snky sperm chromatin retained the histochemical properties of mature sperm chromatin for several hours after sperm entry, showed reduced staining with membrane-impermeant nuclear dyes, and failed to replicate. We conclude that the snky+ product is required for the initial response of the sperm to cytoplasmic cues in the egg and for the subsequent initiation of embryogenesis in Drosophila. We suggest that all of the snky defects can be explained by the failure of the sperm plasma membrane to break down after entry into the egg.