Fertile eggs obtained from alligators reared in captivity typically exhibit high rates of embryonic mortality. Also, the fatty acid composition of the yolk lipid of the captive eggs is markedly different from that observed in eggs from wild alligators, possibly as a result of differences in maternal diet in the two situations. The fatty acid compositions of tissue lipids during the embryonic development of wild and captive alligators were compared. The lipids of liver, adipose tissue and heart of the two types of embryo displayed fatty acid profiles which generally reflected the acyl compositions of the respective yolks. Thus the lipids from these tissues of the captive embryos contained markedly higher proportionate levels of linoleic and linolenic acids, lower levels of palmitoleic acid, and, in general, lower levels of docosahexaenoic acid and other C20 and C22 polyunsaturates, in comparison to the values for the wild embryos. In contrast, the fatty acid composition of the brain phosphoglycerides was very similar in the two types of embryo. Thus, at least in those embryos which had survived during the developmental period studied, the brain was able to maintain a relatively constant fatty acid composition, in spite of major differences between the wild and captive eggs in the proportions of the various fatty acids supplied from the yolk. It is suggested that a major cause of embryonic mortality in the captive embryos could be a failure to maintain an adequate level of docosahexaenoic acid in the developing brain.