With a standard set of primers directed toward conserved regions, we have used the polymerase chain reaction to amplify homologous segments of mtDNA from more than 100 animal species, including mammals, birds, amphibians, fishes, and some invertebrates. Amplification and direct sequencing were possible using unpurified mtDNA from nanogram samples of fresh specimens and microgram amounts of tissues preserved for months in alcohol or decades in the dry state. The bird and fish sequences evolve with the same strong bias toward transitions that holds for mammals. However, because the light strand of birds is deficient in thymine, thymine to cytosine transitions are less common than in other taxa. Amino acid replacement in a segment of the cytochrome b gene is faster in mammals and birds than in fishes and the pattern of replacements fits the structural hypothesis for cytochrome b. The unexpectedly wide taxonomic utility of these primers offers opportunities for phylogenetic and population research.