The distribution of mRNA in Chaetopterus pergamentaceus eggs was examined by in situ hybridization with poly(U) and specific cloned DNA probes. Eggs contain three distinct regions; the cortical ectoplasm, endoplasm, and a plasm released from the germinal vesicle (GV) during maturation. The ectoplasm of the mature egg showed a 15-fold enrichment in poly(A) and in histone and actin mRNAs relative to the endoplasm and the GV plasm after in situ hybridization. More than 90% of the total mass of egg poly(A) + RNA and histone and actin messages was estimated to be present in the ectoplasm. The mRNA molecules co-distributed with ectoplasmic inclusion granules during ooplasmic segregation. During the extensive cytoplasmic rearrangements which occur at the time of the first cleavage the ectoplasm was divided into animal and vegetal portions. The animal portion was segregated evenly between the AB and CD blastomeres, whereas the vegetal portion entered the polar lobe and was preferentially segregated to the CD blastomere. Histone and actin mRNA entered both the AB and CD blastomeres of the 2-cell embryo. The results demonstrate that mRNA is quantitatively localized in the cortex of the Chaetopterus egg and early embryo.