An erythrocyte anti-ankryin antibody was used to investigate the presence and distribution of ankryin in eggs and embryos of ascidian species with different modes of development. In eggs of the indirect developer Ascidia ceratodes, anti-ankryin reacted with a 210 kDa polypeptide which has an electrophoretic mobility similar to the vertebrate ankryins. Immunofluorescence microscopy showed that the ankryin-like protein is co-distributed with the myoplasm throughout development. It is restricted to a thin layer under the plasma membrane in unfertilised eggs, undergoes ooplasmic segregation to the posterior pole of the zygote after fertilisation, and is distributed to the tail muscle cells during cleavage and embryogenesis. After gastrulation and neurulation, lower levels of the ankryin-like protein, presumably of zygotic origin, were observed in brain cells and in the apical margin of epidermal cells. The ankryin-like protein was also localised in the myoplasm in eggs and embryos of another indirect developing species, Halocynthia roretzi. The ankryin-like protein may link the cytoskeleton with the plasma membrane in ascidian eggs, as it does in vertebrate erythrocytes. In contrast to A. ceratodes and H. roretzi, which are members of the families Ascidiidae and Pyuridae respectively, the pattern of ankryin-like protein expression was changed in five species in the family Molgulidae. These molgulid ascidians exhibit either indirect or direct development, and eggs of the direct developing species have lost or modified the myoplasm. The ankryin-like protein was present in young oocytes but failed to persist during oogenesis and disappeared in mature eggs and embryos of these molgulid species. The change in ankryin-like protein expression may be a preadaptation for loss of the myoplasm and the evolution of direct development.