Correct formation of the Drosophila body plan requires restriction of nanos activity to the posterior of the embryo. Spatial regulation of nanos is achieved by a combination of RNA localization and localization-dependent translation such that only posteriorly localized nanos RNA is translated. Cis-acting sequences that mediate both RNA localization and translational regulation lie within the nanos 3' untranslated region. We have identified a discrete translational control element within the nanos 3' untranslated region that acts independently of the localization signal to mediate translational repression of unlocalized nanos RNA. Both the translational regulatory function of the nanos 3'UTR and the sequence of the translational control element are conserved between D. melanogaster and D. virilis. Furthermore, we show that the RNA helicase Vasa, which is required for nanos RNA localization, also plays a critical role in promoting nanos translation. Our results specifically exclude models for translational regulation of nanos that rely on changes in polyadenylation.