The transition from oocyte to embryo in mammals is triggered by a series of calcium transients. There are two distinguishing features of this signal transduction pathway. First, it appears to be triggered by a cell fusion event between egg and sperm that allows the direct introduction of a factor that leads to the release of intracellular Ca2+. Second, it features a slow-frequency calcium oscillator (one transient every 10-20 min) that persists for 3-4 h. In this review I report on recent developments in our understanding of how the Ca2+ oscillations are started and on the regulation of the overall temporal organization. The review focuses on mammalian fertilization and (inevitably) it is fertilization in the mouse that will be predominantly discussed. Relevant and topical contributions from the excellent body of literature available on other species will be utilized where appropriate but extensive reviews can be found elsewhere [Striker S A (1999) Comparative biology of calcium signaling during fertilization and egg activation in animals Dev Biol 211: 57-76; Jaffe et al., this issue].