The maternal effect gene swallow ( swa) of Drosophila is required for bicoid and htsN4 mRNA localization during oogenesis. Swallow is also required for additional, poorly understood, functions in early embryogenesis. We have examined the cytoskeleton in swa mutant oocytes and embryos by immunocytochemistry and confocal microscopy. Mid- and late-stage swaoocytes have defective cytoplasmic actin networks. Stage-10 oocytes have solid actin clumps and hollow actin spheres in the subcortical layer, and late-stage oocytes have uniformly distributed hollow actin spheres in the subcortical layer and in deeper cytoplasm. Swa preblastoderm embryos have uneven and irregularly distributed actin at the cortex, and defective subcortical actin networks that contain hollow and solid spheres. In swa syncytial blastoderm embryos, the abnormal actin cytoskeleton is associated with defects in nuclear distribution, migration and cleavage. Actin cytoskeletal defects correlate with spindle defects, suggesting that the abnormal organization of the actin cytoskeleton allows interaction of mitotic spindles, which induces defective nuclear divisions and loss of nuclei from the surface of the embryo.