The distribution of enkephalin and dynorphin immunoreactivity in the hippocampus of four rodent species (gray squirrel, guinea pig, rat, and hamster) is compared with the pattern of opiate receptor subtypes (mu, delta, and kappa). The distribution of opioid peptides is fairly consistent in the anterior hippocampus of these four species. Intense immunoreactivity for dynorphin and enkephalin is found in the hilus of the dentate gyrus and in the mossy fiber system. Occasional immunoreactive processes are seen in the dentate molecular layer and scattered throughout the CA1 and CA3 fields. In the rat and hamster, an additional plexus of enkephalinergic fibers straddles both sides of the hippocampal fissure. Cells immunoreactive for both opioid peptides are located in and just superficial to the dentate granule cell layer. Opiate receptors are variably distributed in these rodent species. In the squirrel, guinea pig, and hamster, mu and kappa binding is dense in the stratum lucidum of CA3 and the molecular layer of the dentate gyrus. In the rat, dense mu and kappa binding is localized within and adjacent to the pyramidal and granule cell layers. Delta receptor patterns show additional species differences. In the rat, the delta distribution is similar to the mu and kappa patterns. In the other species, the delta binding pattern is generally the inverse of the mu/kappa pattern: most areas of the hippocampus are enriched in delta sites, whereas the stratum lucidum and the pyramidal cell layer are receptor-sparse. Thus, the stratum lucidum--site of dense terminations of mossy fibers containing opioid peptides--is characterized by selectively sparse delta receptors in four species and by selectively dense kappa receptors in three species. The three receptor subtypes, taken either individually or together and compared to the peptides, are more variably and more widely distributed throughout the hippocampus and fail to show a correspondence with opioid-peptide-containing terminals. The mismatches suggest that receptor locations and densities are organized without relation to the sites of relevant transmitter release.