BACKGROUND: Of the animals typically used to study fertilization-induced calcium dynamics, none is as accessible to genetics and molecular biology as the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. Motivated by the experimental possibilities inherent in using such a well-established model organism, we have characterized fertilization-induced calcium dynamics in C. elegans. RESULTS: Owing to the transparency of the nematode, we have been able to study the calcium signal in C. elegans fertilization in vivo by monitoring the fluorescence of calcium indicator dyes that we introduce into the cytosol of oocytes. In C. elegans, fertilization induces a single calcium transient that is initiated soon after oocyte entry into the spermatheca, the compartment that contains sperm. Therefore, it is likely that the calcium transient is initiated by contact with sperm. This calcium elevation spreads throughout the oocyte, and decays monotonically after which the cytosolic calcium concentration returns to that preceding fertilization. Only this single calcium transient is observed. CONCLUSION: Development of a technique to study fertilization induced calcium transients opens several experimental possibilities, e.g., identification of the signaling events intervening sperm binding and calcium elevation, identifying the possible roles of the calcium elevation such as the completion of meiosis, the formation of the eggshell, and the establishing of the embryo's axis of symmetry.