The distribution of terminal-sequence orientations in the viral DNA of bovine parvovirus (BPV), an autonomous parvovirus, was studied by end labeling and restriction enzyme digestion and also by cloning. The left (3') end of the minus strand of BPV was found in two alternative sequence orientations (designated as flip and flop, which are reverse complements of each other), with a 10-fold excess of flip. This is in contrast to the autonomous rodent parvoviruses which encapsidate minus-strand DNA with only the flip orientation at this end. The right (5') end of the minus strand of BPV contained both sequence orientations with equal frequencies, as in the rodent parvoviruses. Sequence inversions were also detected at both ends of the plus strand, which makes up about 10% of the encapsidated BPV DNA. Each terminus of BPV DNA had a characteristic ratio of flip to flop forms, and this ratio was restored in the progeny DNA resulting from transfection with genomic clones of different defined terminal conformations. Replicative-form DNA showed the same distribution of terminal-sequence orientations as the reannealed plus and minus virion DNAs, suggesting that the distribution of flip and flop forms observed in virion DNA is not due to selective encapsidation, but rather to the specific distribution of replicative forms. The current replication model for autonomous parvoviruses, which was based on the available data for the rodent parvoviruses, cannot account for the observed distribution of BPV DNA. An alternative model is suggested.