The homotypic fusion of sea urchin egg cortical vesicles (CV) is a system in which to correlate the biochemistry and physiology of membrane fusion. Homologues of vesicle-associated membrane protein (VAMP), syntaxin, and SNAP-25 were identified in CV membranes. A VAMP and syntaxin immunoreactive band at a higher apparent molecular mass (approximately 70 kDa) was detected; extraction and analysis confirmed that the band contained VAMP, SNAP-25, and syntaxin. This complex was also identified by immunoprecipitation and by sucrose gradient analysis. VAMP in the complex was insensitive to proteolysis by tetanus toxin. All criteria identify the SNARE complex as that described in other secretory systems. Complexes exist pre-formed on individual CV membranes and form between contacting CV. Most notably, CV SNARE complexes are disrupted in response to [Ca2+]free that trigger maximal fusion. N-Ethylmaleimide, which blocks fusion at or before the Ca2+-triggering step, blocks complex disruption by Ca2+. However, disruption is not blocked by lysophosphatidylcholine, which transiently arrests a late stage of fusion. Since removal of lysophosphatidylcholine from Ca2+-treated CV is known to allow fusion, complex disruption occurs independently from the membrane fusion step. As Ca2+ disrupts rather than stabilizes the complex, the presumably coiled-coil SNARE interactions are not needed at the time of fusion. These findings rule out models of fusion in which SNARE complex formation goes to completion ("zippers-up") after Ca2+ binding removes a "fusion-clamp."