Egg surface applications of microliter quantities of crude and refined oils of high aromatic content are embryotoxic to mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and other avian species; applications of aliphatic hydrocarbons have virtually no effect. Mallard eggs at 72 h of development were exposed to a mixture of aromatic hydrocarbons or to aromatic compounds representative to those present in crude oil to assess their toxicity. The class composition of the mixture was similar to that of South Louisiana crude oil, an American Petroleum Institute reference oil. Application of 20 microliter of the mixture reduced embryonic survival by nearly 70%. The temporal pattern of embryonic death was similar to that after exposure to South Louisiana crude oil. Embryonic growth was stunted, as reflected by weight, crown-rump length, and bill length, and there was a significant increase in the incidence of abnormal survivors. When individual classes of aromatic hydrocarbons were tested, tetracyclics caused some embryonic death at the concentrations in the mixture. When classes were tested in all possible combinations of two, no combination appeared to be as toxic as the entire mixture. Addition of the tetracyclic compound chrysene to the aromatic mixture considerably enhanced embryotoxicity, but could not completely account for the toxicity of the crude oil. The presence of additional unidentified polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as well as methylated derivatives of polycyclic aromatic compounds such as chrysene may further account for the embryotoxicity of the crude oil.