Fluorescence polarization of 1,6-diphenylhexatriene (DPH) was used to study the effects of temperature acclimation on Tetrahymena membranes. The physical properties of membrane lipids were found to be highly dependent on cellular growth temperature. DPH polarization in lipids from three different membrane fractions correlated well with earlier freeze-fracture and electron spin resonance observations showing that membrane fluidity progressively decreases in the order microsomes greater than pellicles greater than cilia throughout a wide range of growth temperatures. Changes in membrane lipid fluidity following a shift from high to low growth temperatures proceed rapidly in the microsomes, whereas there is a pronounced lag in the changes of peripheral cell membrane lipids. These data support previous observations that adaptive changes in membrane fluidity proceed via lipid modifications in the endoplasmic reticulum, followed by dissemination of lipid components to other cell membranes. The rapid changes in polarization observed in the microsomal lipids following a temperature shift correspond closely with the time-dependent alterations in both lipid fatty acid composition and freeze-fracture patterns of membrane particle distribution, suggesting that, in the endoplasmic reticulum, lipid phase separation is the primary cause of membrane particle rearrangements.