We have surveyed expression of the six Drosophila actin genes during ontogeny. Unique portions of cloned actin genes were used to monitor levels of respective mRNAs in developmentally staged whole organisms and dissected body parts. We find that each gene is transcribed to form functional mRNA, which accumulates with a distinct pattern. Two of the genes, act5C and act42A, are expressed in undifferentiated cells and probably encode cytoplasmic actins. Act57A and act87E are expressed predominantly in larval, pupal, and adult intersegmental muscles; act88F in muscles of the adult thorax; and act79B in the thorax and leg muscles. These composite data define three main patterns of actin gene expression which are correlated with changing Drosophila morphology, particularly muscle differentiation and reorganization.