We have tested directly the hypothesis that the endogenous electrical field in the chick embryo plays a causal role in development. Conductive implants, which shunt currents out of the embryo and thus alter the internal field, were placed under the dorsal skin at the mid-trunk level of stage 11-15 embryos. Currents leaving the posterior intestinal portal (p.i.p.) of these embryos were reduced by an average of 30%. Control embryos receiving non-conductive implants showed no change in p.i.p. currents. In the group receiving current shunts, 92% of the embryos exhibited some developmental abnormality. Only 11% of the control group displayed defects. The most common defect in the experimental group (81%) was in tail development. Tail defects ranged from complete absence to the formation of a normal length, but morphologically abnormal tail. Internally, tail structures (neural tube, notochord and somites) were frequently absent or aberrantly formed. In 33% of the experimental embryos, the notochord continued lengthening in the absence of any other tail development. This led to the formation of ourenteric outgrowths from the hindgut. Defects in limb bud and head development were also found in experimentally treated embryos, but at a much lower frequency than tail defects. The abnormalities observed in experimental embryos were very similar to those produced naturally in rumpless mutant chicks. A vibrating probe analysis of these mutants (from both dominant and recessive strains) showed that currents leaving the p.i.p. were significantly lower in phenotypically abnormal mutants than in wild-type and phenotypically normal mutant embryos from both strains. There was no apparent correlation between the average transepithelial potential (TEP) of these mutants and the development of tail abnormalities. The possible role of endogenous electrical fields in chick tail development is discussed.