The source of the lipase(s) acting in the stomach was investigated in five animal species: rat, mouse (rodents), rabbit (lagomorphs), guinea pig (caviidae), baboon and human (primates). The activity of lingual and gastric lipases was quantitated in homogenates of lingual serous glands and of gastric mucosa, respectively, by the hydrolysis of tri[3H]oleylglycerol and is expressed in units/g (1 U = 1 mumol [3H]oleic acid released/min) per g tissue wet weight, mean +/- S.E. There were marked differences in the activity level of lingual and gastric lipases among species: mouse and rat had high levels of lingual lipase activity (250 +/- 20 and 824 +/- 224 U/g) and only traces of gastric lipase activity (4.5 +/- 0.9 and 0.04 U/g, respectively), whereas rabbit and guinea pig had no lingual lipase activity and only gastric lipase activity (78 +/- 48 and 27 +/- 7.4 U/g, respectively). In the baboon and human, gastric lipase was the predominant enzyme (109 +/- 20 U/g and 118 +/- 8.8 U/g, respectively), whereas lingual lipase activity was present in trace amounts only (0.04 U/g and 0.3 U/g, respectively). In addition to species differences in the origin of the preduodenal lipases, there were also species differences in the distribution of gastric lipase in the stomach. Thus, while in the rabbit, gastric lipase was localized exclusively in the cardia and body of the stomach, it was diffusely distributed in the entire stomach of the guinea pig and baboon. A comparison between the level of activity of lipase and pepsin (the two chief digestive enzymes secreted by the stomach), showed differences in their localization in the species studied. The difference in source (tongue vs. stomach) and site (cardia-body vs. entire stomach) of lipase secretion must be taken into account in future studies of these digestive enzymes. Although the exact contribution of lingual and gastric lipases individually to fat digestion in species which contain both enzymes cannot yet be evaluated, the markedly higher levels of gastric lipase activity in the baboon and human suggests that, in primates, gastric lipase is probably the major non-pancreatic digestive lipase.