Steranes and hopanes are organic biomarkers used as indicators for the first appearance of eukaryotes and cyanobacteria on Earth. Oil-bearing fluid inclusions may provide a contamination-free source of Precambrian biomarkers, as the oil has been secluded from the environment since the formation of the inclusion. However, analysis of biomarkers in single oil-bearing fluid inclusions, which is often necessary due to the presence of different generations of inclusions, has not been possible due to the small size of most inclusions. Here, we have used time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) to monitor in real time the opening of individual inclusions trapped in hydrothermal veins of fluorite and calcite and containing oil from Ordovician source rocks. Opening of the inclusions was performed by using a focused C60+ ion beam and the in situ content was precisely analysed for C27–C29 steranes and C29–C32 hopanes using Bi3+ as primary ions. The capacity to unambiguously detect these biomarkers in the picoliter amount of crude oil from a single, normal-sized (15–30 μm in diameter) inclusion makes the approach promising in the search of organic biomarkers for life’s early evolution on Earth.