The patch-clamp technique was implemented in the cut-open squid giant axon and used to record single K channels. We present evidence for the existence of three distinct types of channel activities. In patches that contained three to eight channels, ensemble fluctuation analysis was performed to obtain an estimate of 17.4 pS for the single-channel conductance. Averaged currents obtained from these multichannel patches had a time course of activation similar to that of macroscopic K currents recorded from perfused squid giant axons. In patches where single events could be recorded, it was possible to find channels with conductances of 10, 20, and 40 pS. The channel most frequently encountered was the 20-pS channel; for a pulse to 50 mV, this channel had a probability of being open of 0.9. In other single-channel patches, a channel with a conductance of 40 pS was present. The activity of this channel varied from patch to patch. In some patches, it showed a very low probability of being open (0.16 for a pulse to 50 mV) and had a pronounced lag in its activation time course. In other patches, the 40-pS channel had a much higher probability of being open (0.75 at a holding potential of 50 mV). The 40-pS channel was found to be quite selective for K over Na. In some experiments, the cut-open axon was exposed to a solution containing no K for several minutes. A channel with a conductance of 10 pS was more frequently observed after this treatment. Our study shows that the macroscopic K conductance is a composite of several K channel types, but the relative contribution of each type is not yet clear. The time course of activation of the 20-pS channel and the ability to render it refractory to activation only by holding the membrane potential at a positive potential for several seconds makes it likely that it is the predominant channel contributing to the delayed rectifier conductance.