Restriction endonuclease analysis has revealed extensive mtDNA polymorphism in two species of rats, Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus. Sequence divergence values for the eight detected R. norvegicus variants range from 0.2% to 1.8% and for the eight R. rattus variants, from 0.2% to 9.6%. Three of the most closely related R. norvegicus mtDNA's appear to differ by deletions/insertions of about 4 base pairs apiece. Restriction sites for seven enzymes have been mapped for 11 of these variants. The 31 intraspecific and 41 interspecific variant sites appear to be evenly distributed on the mtDNA molecule outside of the rRNA cistrons. The location of sites present in all the DNAs suggests that the rRNA genes and possibly the light strand origin of replication may be more highly evolutionarily conserved than other parts of the molecule. The sequence divergences among the mtDNAs of animals whose geographic origins are separated by major barriers, such as oceans, were significantly greater than those among animals found within large land masses, such as the continental United States. Dendrograms (phenograms), which have been constructed to depict the relationships among the various DNAs, indicate that East Asian members of the R. rattus species are more closely related to American rats of this species than to other Asian R. rattus animals from Sri Lanka. Moreover, it appears that R. norvegicus comprises a group taxonomically distinct from any of the R. rattus subspecies.