What Does Sperm Look Like?

What is the number of sperm that a man produces in a day? How small are sperms? How do sperms swim to an egg cell, or how do they know the direction to follow? Read on and find all the answers to these questions and other frequent questions. You will also learn the difference between sperm and semen and also what does sperm look like?

Semen vs. Sperm

The terms semen and sperm are often mistakenly used as interchangeable terms. However, they are, in fact, different objects. Semen refers to the grey or white liquid emitted during ejaculation through the urethra. One milliliter of semen contains millions of sperm or spermatozoa. Glands secretions form the majority volume of semen. The main difference between semen and sperm is that semen is the liquid that contains sperm while sperm are actual sex cells. Both sperm and semen are necessary for human reproduction.

Sperm are the reproductive cells in men, which merge with female reproductive cells during the fertilization process. Human sperm are haploid, which means that one sperm contains half the chromosomes found in a typical cell. A haploid egg and sperm combine to form a diploid cell with 46 chromosomes.

What Does Sperm Look Like?

Sperm are generated in testes and take months to mature fully. They have three regions that include a head, a tail, and a midpiece. The head consists of genetic materials and its unique design enables it to break through a female egg. The midpiece contains organelles that provide energy to the sperm. The tail enables locomotion through the viscous semen. The human sperm cells are about 50 micrometers, 0.002 inches, or 0.05 millimeter from head to tail. It is not visible without a microscope. The female egg is 30 times larger than a sperm and can be seen with naked eyes.

So, what does sperm look like? A normal human sperm's head is egg-shaped. Its edges are smooth and its width and length are 2 microns and 4 microns respectively. Its acrosome does not contain vacuoles. The total length of the neck and tail is about 45 microns. The long, slim tail has no kinks or curls. Abnormal sperm have head defects, which include water drop-shaped, flat, asymmetric, large, and round heads. Neck abnormalities include cytoplasmic droplets and broken necks while tail defects include absence of a tail and split or curled tails.

What Does Semen Look Like?

Semen is grey, white and sometimes yellowish. Red or pink semen indicates that it contains blood. Health complications sometimes lead to bloodstained semen and men with such a problem should seek medical attention. Semen clots fast after ejaculation,forms a jelly-like, stick liquid and then liquefies after 5-40 minutes. Semen may form jelly-like globules, which are not a sign of any fertility or health issue. However, failure to clot and liquefy can lead to infertility. About 2-5ml of semen are produced in every ejaculation. Higher volumes (above 5.5ml) and lower volumes (below 1.5ml) are abnormal. They are referred to as hyperspermia and hypospermia respectively. Hyperspermia is associated with prolonged abstinence while hypospermia may result from very frequent ejaculation.

FAQs About Sperm

Having answered the question, what does sperm look like? Let us look at other common questions answered about sperm.

1. What Is the Lifespan of a Sperm?

The lifespan of a sperm depends on a number of factors but the major factor is the location. Sperm dry immediately after semen dries on dry surface such as bedding or clothing. Sperm thrive in wet and warm environments. Hence, they live longer in a hot or warm bath. However, there are very low chances of sperm in a bathtub to swim inside a female bather's body and make her pregnant. Sperm live for about five days in a woman's body depending on the conditions. Consequently, a woman can get pregnant from after having unprotected sex a few days before her ovulation.

2. How Many Sperm Are Required for Pregnancy?

Only one sperm is required to fertilize an egg and achieve a pregnancy. This means that when one sperm fertilizes an egg, millions of sperm fail to reach the egg. It is estimated that about 100 million sperm are released in an average ejaculation. Men who release fewer than 20 million sperm in every milliliter of semen may experience infertility issues. Even if one sperm is required to achieve a pregnancy, millions of sperm must be released. This is because semen must move from the vagina to the fallopian tube to reach the egg. This is a long journey and only a few sperm survive. Even after reaching the fallopian tube, penetrating the waiting egg is not guaranteed. The thick layer that covers the egg makes penetration difficult. Hence, only the healthiest sperm penetrates and fertilizes the egg. This increases a woman's chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.

3. What Can a Man Do to Improve the Health of His Sperm?

After answering the question, "what does sperm look like?" men are often curious to know how they can improve the health of their sperm. Anything that improves a man's health will improve the health of his sperm:

  • Reducing the intake of alcohol
  • A healthy diet and weight
  • Avoiding illicit drugs such as steroids and cigarettes
  • Staying away from toxins like heavy metals and pesticides
  • Protecting the scrotum from excess heat by avoiding tight and restrictive pants, hot baths and tubs, and replacing briefs with boxers

4. Does Sperm Production Stop with Age?

Women's fertility ends at menopause but men's fertility can last throughout their lifetime. Men continue to produce sperm even in their old age but at a decreased rate. Elderly men can still father children.

5. How Do Sperm Know Where to Go?

According to scientists, sperm cells use various mechanisms to find a waiting egg. Sperm cells swim towards high concentrations of chemotaxis, which are molecules released by the egg. They also swim towards the areas in a woman's reproductive tract with high temperatures or thermotaxis, where eggs are located.

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