Measurements of cAMP in early embryos of Drosophila melanogaster demonstrate that the dunce gene plays a major role, and the rutabaga gene a secondary role, in maternal regulation of embryonic cAMP content. Studying the double mutant combination, we find that variability in elevated cAMP content between individual embryos is associated with a wide variability in developmental potential. Embryos with about five times the normal cAMP content define a threshold between apparently normal and abnormal development. Measurements of cAMP content in anterior and posterior halves of embryos indicate that the posterior embryonic region, which is developmentally more sensitive to the effects of elevated cAMP than the anterior region, does not contain more cAMP than the anterior region. The variety of developmental defects observed is discussed in relation to possible targets of cAMP action.