First Person In The World Who Discovered The Sperm Cells

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, father of microbiology

L. Small
3 min readSep 15, 2020


“Spermatozoon (disc-shaped head 5.1 µm by 3.1 µm and a tail 50 µm long)” by quapan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bacteria have been around for a long time on Earth and were called the first living things on Earth. The first scientist to study and describe these bacteria was Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Because of that, he also became the first person in the world to observe sperm.

“Antoni van Leeuwenhoek” by Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was born on October 24, 1632, in the small city of Delft in the Dutch Republic. A self-taught man in science, he is commonly known as “the Father of Microbiology”, and one of the first microscopists and microbiologists. Van Leeuwenhoek is best known for his pioneering work in microscopy and his contributions toward the establishment of microbiology as a scientific discipline.

Sperm were unknown to science until 1677 when the Dutch amateur scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek first observed human sperm under a microscope. Van Leeuwenhoek turned his newly developed microscope toward his semen, seeing for the first time that the fluid was filled with tiny, wiggling cells.

Spermatozoa of rabbit (figs. 1–4) and dog (figs. 5–8)

Van Leeuwenhoek describes sperm as ‘small animals.’

They have a flat head and long, nearly transparent tail. They move like snakes or eels swimming in water.

His observations, which he considered one of the most important discoveries of his career, and described the spermatozoa from mollusks, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals, coming to the novel conclusion that fertilization occurred when the spermatozoa penetrated the egg.

Unfortunately, the way Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek built the microscope was a mystery he had never revealed to anyone. During his lifetime, he created over 500 lenses, most of which are tiny.

“antonie van leeuwenhoek’s microscope” by vnaylon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Van Leeuwenhoek died on 26 August 1723.

After Van Leeuwenhoek discovered sperm, it took another century before anyone realized that they were needed to fertilize eggs.

That revelation came in the 1760s, when the Italian priest and natural scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani, experimenting on male frogs wearing tight-fitting taffeta pants, showed that eggs would not develop into tadpoles unless sperm was shed into the surrounding water. Bizarrely, until Spallanzani announced his findings, it was widely thought — even by van Leeuwenhoek for some years — that sperm were tiny parasites living in human semen.

It was only in 1876 that the German zoologist Oscar Hertwig showed the fusion of sperm and egg in sea urchins.



L. Small

"One arrow alone can be easily broken but many arrows are indestructible" ~Genghis Khan~