Two independent P-element enhancer detection lines were obtained that express lacZ in a pattern of longitudinal stripes early in germband elongation. In this paper, molecular and genetic characterization of a gene located near these transposons is presented. Sequence analysis of a cDNA clone from the region reveals that this gene has a high degree of similarity with the Drosophila snail gene (Boulay et al., 1987). The sequence similarity extends over 400 nucleotides, and includes a region encoding five tandem zinc finger motifs (72% nucleotide identity; 76% amino acid identity). This region is also conserved in the snail homologue from Xenopus laevis (76% nucleotide identity; 83% amino acid identity) (Sargent and Bennett, 1990). We have named the Drosophila snail-related gene escargot (esg), and the region of sequence conservation common to all three genes the 'snailbox'. A number of Drosophila genomic DNA fragments cross-hybridize to a probe from the snailbox region suggesting that snail and escargot are members of a multigene family. The expression pattern of escargot is dynamic and complex. Early in germband elongation, escargot RNA is expressed in a pattern of longitudinal stripes identical to the one observed in the two enhancer detection lines. Later in development, escargot is expressed in cells that will form the larval imaginal tissues, escargot is allelic with l(2)35Ce, an essential gene located near snail in the genome.