Archaea have unique membrane lipids typified by ether linkages of the glycerol-to-isoprenoid chains with sn-2,3 stereochemistry that runs against the naturally occurring sn-1,2 stereochemistry of the glycerophospholipids of Bacteria and Eukarya. Membrane lipids were extracted and analyzed from the hyperthermophilic archaeon, Thermococcus kodakaraensis, cultivated at various temperatures. At all growth temperatures examined, both the diphytanylglycerol diether (archaeol, C(20)) and diphytanyldiglycerol tetraether (caldarchaeol, C(40)) were identified as saturated forms, and no other lipids could be identified. The ratio of caldarchaeol to archaeol increased with increasing growth temperature, particularly at 93 degrees C. A larger amount of archaeol was detected from cells in the logarithmic phase than from those in the stationary phase at all temperatures examined. These results indicate that T. kodakaraensis modulated the membrane lipid composition depending on both the growth phase and the growth temperature, and suggest that the membrane fluidity to environmental change was maintained by altering the length of the hydrocarbon chains, and not by side-chain saturation such as double-bond hydrogenation nor by such a modification as cyclopentane ring formation.