A portion (approximately 350 nucleotides) of the large subunit ribosomal RNA (rRNA) 5' to the 580 region (Escherichia coli numbering) was sequenced using the reverse transcriptase dideoxy method and compared for several species of Nosema and Vairimorpha. Comparison among Nosema species suggests that this genus is composed of several unrelated groups. The group which includes the type species, Nosema bombycis, consists of closely related species found primarily in Lepidoptera. Other Nosema species sequenced (Nosema kingi, Nosema algerae, and Nosema locustae) do not appear to be closely related to each other or to the lepidopteran Nosema group. Comparison among the Vairimorpha species indicates that two distinct but very closely related groups exist. The Lymantria group consists of species isolated from the gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar, while the Vairimorpha necatrix group consists of species isolated from other Lepidoptera. Intergeneric comparison of the sequence data suggests that the lepidopteran Nosema species are closely related to the Vairimorpha species.