Lower vertebrate species, including Xenopus laevis, exhibit restricted antibody diversity relative to higher vertebrates. We have analyzed more than 180 VH gene-containing recombinant clones from an unamplified spleen cDNA library by selective sequencing of JH and CH positive clones following iterative hybridization screening with family-specific VH probes, 11 unique families of VH genes, each associated with a unique genomic Southern blot hybridization pattern, are described and compared. Considerable variation in the number of hybridizing components detected by each probe is evident. The nucleotide sequence difference between VH families is as great as, if not more than, that reported in other systems, including representatives of the mammalian, avian, and elasmobranch lineages. Some Xenopus Ig gene families encode alternative amino acids at positions that are otherwise invariant or very rarely substituted in known Igs. Furthermore, variations in complementarity determining region sequences among members of the same gene family and high degrees of DH and JH region complexity are described, suggesting that in at least this lower vertebrate species, the diversity of expressed Ig VH genes is not restricted.