In this study cauda epididymal spermatozoa of rats maintained on a selenium-deficient diet for 5 and 7 months exhibited an array of flagellar defects. Spermatids and spermatozoa were analyzed by light and electron microscopy to define the appearance of flagellar abnormalities during spermiogenesis and post-testicular sperm development. Late spermatids of selenium-deficient rats displayed normal structural organization of the flagellar plasma membrane, axoneme, outer dense fibers, fibrous sheath and annulus, but they exhibited a premature termination of the mitochondrial sheath. A comparison of late spermatids and caput epididymal spermatozoa revealed that a late step in flagellar differentiation was the structural remodeling of the annulus and its accompanying fusion with both the fibrous sheath and the mitochondrial sheath. In selenium-deficient animals, however, the annulus failed to fuse with the mitochondrial sheath, generating an apparent weak point in the flagellum. After epididymal passage, cauda epididymal spermatozoa of selenium-deficient animals also exhibited extensive flagellar disorganization resulting from the apparent sliding and extrusion of specific outer dense fiber-doublet microtubule complexes from the proximal and the distal ends of the mitochondrial sheath and the accompanying loss of the midpiece plasma membrane. Only fiber complex number 4 was extruded proximally, whereas fibers 4, 5, 6 and 7 were extruded from the mitochondrial sheath-deficient posterior midpiece. Axonemal fibers 8, 9, 1, 2 and 3 retained their normal geometric relationships. These data suggest that the known loss of male fertility in selenium deficiency results from the sequential development of sperm defects expressed during both spermiogenesis and maturation in the epididymis.