Collared lemmings (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) show much phenotypic plasticity when exposed to photoperiods of varying length. In addition to "long day" and "short day" morphologies, apparent when animals are exposed to 22L:2D and 8L:16D, respectively, animals with intermediate features appear when collared lemmings are placed on day lengths ranging from 18L:6D to 14L:10D. Body mass, body composition, pelage color and length, the presence and size of a bifid claw, and reproductive condition are all influenced by ambient day length. We tested the hypothesis that variations in the melatonin signal mediate the physiological and morphological responses observed in collared lemmings housed in various photoperiods. One group of collared lemmings was fitted with a subcutaneous cannula at weaning and infused for 8 weeks with 2, 6, or 14 hr melatonin or 14 hr vehicle daily while housed in constant light (LL). Additional groups were transferred to LL, 20L:4D, 16L:8D, or 8L:16D (all uninfused). The response of the animals to both melatonin infusion and photoperiod was graded; the degree to which the "winter" morphology developed was proportional to the length of both the melatonin infusion and the scotophase. Both the 14 hr infusion and the 8L:16D photoperiod promoted development of the characteristic "winter" traits: large body size, white pelage, bifid claw, small uterus, and low serum prolactin (PRL). Conversely, treatment with the 2 hr infusion or exposure to the long photoperiods (LL, 20L:4D) resulted in a "summer-like" morphology. Infusion of 6 hr melatonin per day or exposure to 16L:8D produced animals with an intermediate physiology. Overall, the results support the hypothesis that variations of the endogenous melatonin rhythm mediate the effect of photoperiod length on seasonal physiological and morphological changes in collared lemmings.