A Xenopus laevis complementary DNA (cDNA) library prepared from messenger RNAs extracted from embryos has been screened for actin-coding sequences. Two cDNA clones corresponding to an alpha cardiac and an alpha skeletal muscle actin mRNA have been identified and characterized. From a genomic library, we have furthermore isolated the genes that correspond to the characterized cDNAs. In addition we have identified an actin processed gene which seems to be derived from a second type of skeletal muscle actin gene. Southern blot analysis of X. laevis DNA reveals that each of the three genes is present in at least two copies. In Xenopus tropicalis, a similar Southern blot analysis demonstrates that the three alpha actin genes exist as single copy. This result correlates with the genome duplication that has been proposed to have occurred recently in a X. laevis ancestor. A sequence comparison of the X. laevis cardiac and skeletal muscle actin cDNAs shows that the encoded peptides are highly conserved. Nevertheless, the numerous nucleotide changes at silent mutation sites suggest that the genes originated before the amphibia/reptile-bird divergence, more than 350 million years ago. Comparison of the promoters of the cardiac and skeletal actin genes, which are co-expressed in embryos, reveals a few common structural sequence elements.