We describe mesendoderm morphogenesis during gastrulation in the frog Xenopus laevis and investigate the mechanics of these movements with tissue explants. When a dorsal marginal zone explant is plated onto fibronectin, the mesendoderm moves away from the dorsal axial tissues as an intact sheet. Mesendodermal cells within these explants display monopolar protrusive activity and radially intercalate during explant extension. Live time-lapse confocal sequences of actin dynamics at the margin of these extending explants prompt us to propose that integrin-mediated traction drives these movements. We demonstrate that integrin alpha(5)beta(1) recognition of the synergy site located within the type III(9) repeat of fibronectin is required for mesendoderm extension. Normal mesendoderm morphogenesis occurs with a unique "cup-shaped" geometry of the extending mesendodermal mantle and coincides with a higher rate of tissue extension than that seen in the simpler dorsal marginal zone explant. These higher rates can be reconstituted with "in-the-round" configurations of several explants. We propose several mechanically based hypotheses to explain both the initial fibronectin-dependent extension of the mesendoderm and additional requirement of tissue geometry during the high-velocity closure of the mesendodermal mantle.