Phylogenetic analyses of the S:, M, and L: genes of the hantaviruses (Bunyaviridae: Hantavirus) revealed three well-differentiated clades corresponding to viruses parasitic on three subfamilies (Murinae, Arvicolinae, and Sigmodontinae) of the rodent family Muridae. In rooted trees of M: and L: genes, the viruses with hosts belonging to Murinae formed an outgroup to those with hosts in Arvicolinae and Sigmodontinae. This phylogeny corresponded with a phylogeny of the murid subfamilies based on mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences, supporting the hypothesis that hantaviruses have coevolved with their mammalian hosts at least since the common ancestor of these three subfamilies, which probably occurred about 50 MYA. The nucleocapsid protein (encoded by the S: gene) differentiated among the viruses parasitic on the three subfamilies in such a way that a high frequency of amino acid residue charge changes occurred in a hypervariable (HV) portion of the molecule, and nonsynonymous nucleotide differences causing amino acid charge changes in the HV region occurred significantly more frequently than expected under random substitution. Along with evidence that at least in some hantaviruses the HV region is a target for host antibodies and the known importance of charged residues in determining antibody epitopes, these results suggest that changes in the HV region may represent adaptation to host-specific characteristics of the immune response.