BACKGROUND A dinoflagellate genus Ostreopsis is known as a potential producer of Palytoxin derivatives. Palytoxin is the most potent non-proteinaceous compound reported so far. There has been a growing number of reports on palytoxin-like poisonings in southern areas of Japan; however, the distribution of Ostreopsis has not been investigated so far. Morphological plasticity of Ostreopsis makes reliable microscopic identification difficult so the employment of molecular tools was desirable. METHODS/PRINCIPAL FINDING In total 223 clones were examined from samples mainly collected from southern areas of Japan. The D8-D10 region of the nuclear large subunit rDNA (D8-D10) was selected as a genetic marker and phylogenetic analyses were conducted. Although most of the clones were unable to be identified, there potentially 8 putative species established during this study. Among them, Ostreopsis sp. 1-5 did not belong to any known clade, and each of them formed its own clade. The dominant species was Ostreopsis sp. 1, which accounted for more than half of the clones and which was highly toxic and only distributed along the Japanese coast. Comparisons between the D8-D10 and the Internal Transcribed Spacer (ITS) region of the nuclear rDNA, which has widely been used for phylogenetic/phylogeographic studies in Ostreopsis, revealed that the D8-D10 was less variable than the ITS, making consistent and reliable phylogenetic reconstruction possible. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE This study unveiled a surprisingly diverse and widespread distribution of Japanese Ostreopsis. Further study will be required to better understand the phylogeography of the genus. Our results posed the urgent need for the development of the early detection/warning systems for Ostreopsis, particularly for the widely distributed and strongly toxic Ostreopsis sp. 1. The D8-D10 marker will be suitable for these purposes.