Oogenesis in Hydra occurs in so-called egg patches containing several thousand germ cells. Only one oocyte is formed per egg patch; the remaining germ cells differentiate as nurse cells. Whether and how nurse cells contribute cytoplasm to the developing oocyte has been unclear. We have used tissue maceration to characterize the differentiation of oocytes and nurse cells in developing egg patches. We show that nurse cells decrease in size at the same time that developing oocytes increase dramatically in volume. Nurse cells are also tightly attached to oocytes at this stage and confocal images of egg patches stained with the fluorescent membrane dye FM 4-64 clearly show large gaps (10 microm) in the cell membranes separating nurse cells from the developing oocyte. We conclude that nurse cells directly transfer cytoplasm to the developing oocyte. Following this transfer of cytoplasm, nurse cells undergo apoptosis and are phagocytosed by the oocyte. These results demonstrate that basic mechanisms of alimentary oogenesis typical of Caenorhabditis and Drosophila are already present in the early metazoan Hydra.