Caenorhabditis elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae are two closely related nematode species that are nearly identical morphologically. Interspecific cross-hybridizing DNA appears to be restricted primarily to coding regions. We compared portions of the hsp-3 homologs, two grp 78-like genes, from C. elegans and C. briggsae and detected regions of DNA identity in the coding region, the 5' flanking DNAs, and the introns. The hsp-3 homologs share approximately 98% and 93% identity at the amino acid and nucleotide levels, respectively. Using the nucleotide substitution rate at the silent third position of the codons, we have estimated a lower limit for the date of divergence between C. elegans and C. briggsae to be approximately 23-32 million years ago. The 5' flanking DNAs and one of the introns contain elements that are highly conserved between C. elegans and C. briggsae. Some of the regions of nucleotide identity in the 5' flanking DNAs correspond to previously detected identities including viral enhancer sequences, a heat shock element, and an element present in the regulatory regions of mammalian grp78 and grp94 genes. We propose that a comparison of C. elegans and C. briggsae sequences will be useful in the detection of potential regulatory and structural elements.