The Drosophila ninaE gene was isolated by a multistep protocol on the basis of its homology to bovine opsin cDNA. The gene encodes the major visual pigment protein (opsin) contained in Drosophila photoreceptor cells R1-R6. The coding sequence is interrupted by four short introns. The positions of three introns are conserved with respect to positions in mammalian opsin genes. The nucleotide sequence has intermittent regions of homology to bovine opsin coding sequences. The deduced amino acid sequence reveals significant homology to vertebrate opsins; there is strong conservation of the retinal binding site and two other regions. The predicted protein secondary structure strikingly resembles that of mammalian opsins. We conclude the Drosophila and vertebrate opsin genes are derived from a common ancestor.