Guanylyl cyclases (GCs), which synthesize the messenger cyclic guanosine 3',5'-monophosphate, control several sensory functions, such as phototransduction, chemosensation, and thermosensation, in many species from worms to mammals. The GC chemoreceptor in sea urchin sperm can decode chemoattractant concentrations with single-molecule sensitivity. The molecular and cellular underpinnings of such ultrasensitivity are not known for any eukaryotic chemoreceptor. In this paper, we show that an exquisitely high density of 3 × 10(5) GC chemoreceptors and subnanomolar ligand affinity provide a high ligand-capture efficacy and render sperm perfect absorbers. The GC activity is terminated within 150 ms by dephosphorylation steps of the receptor, which provides a means for precise control of the GC lifetime and which reduces "molecule noise." Compared with other ultrasensitive sensory systems, the 10-fold signal amplification by the GC receptor is surprisingly low. The hallmarks of this signaling mechanism provide a blueprint for chemical sensing in small compartments, such as olfactory cilia, insect antennae, or even synaptic boutons.