We studied the early stages of the degeneration of skeletal muscles using the venom of Notechis scutatus as the myotoxic agent. The venom was used at a dose equivalent to the LD50 in the mouse. There was no mortality amongst the rats. Electron microscopy was used to show the progressive hypercontraction of sarcomeres and the loss of alignment of myofibrils in individual muscle fibres. Between areas of hypercontraction sarcomeres were torn, shedding loosened myofilaments into the cytosol. Western blotting and Coomassie staining were used to compare the respective rates of loss of desmin, titin, actin, myosin and dystrophin. We showed that desmin and titin were the first proteins to be degraded with a time to 50% loss of approximately 1 h and 3 h, respectively. The loss of major contractile proteins, myosin and actin, was rather slower. The loss of dystrophin was also slower than the loss of desmin and titin. Early damage to the plasma membrane of the muscle fibre caused the cells to depolarize, probably promoting the hypercontraction of the sarcomeres, but actual loss of membrane was incomplete even at 24 h. We suggest that the early degradation of desmin and titin was responsible for the disaggregation of the sarcomeres; the liberated contractile proteins myosin and actin were shed into the cytosol, where they were degraded. Phagocytic cells that had invaded the degenerating muscle fibres were primarily involved in the clearance of damaged mitochondria.