The embryotoxic potential of external applications of methyl mercury on mallard eggs was investigated to assess the possible impact of mercury transferred from the plumage of effluent-contaminated aquatic birds to their eggs. Eggs were treated on day 3 of development with microliter applications of methyl mercury that was dissolved with ethyl acetate into an aliphatic hydrocarbon vehicle. Mercury analysis by atomic absorption indicated that almost half of the mercury applied entered the eggs past the shell membranes within several days of treatment. Most mortality occurred within this period at doses of 9 microgram of mercury per egg or higher. Decreased embryonic growth resulted with similar doses. A significant incidence of malformations occurred at a dose of 1 microgram per egg. These malformations were mainly minor skeletal aberrations and incomplete ossification. With higher doses of mercury, defects included gross external ones such as micromella, gastroschisis, and eye and brain defects. Application of the aliphatic hydrocarbon vehicle did not result in any of these defects.