Drosophila and Musca both belong to the group of higher dipteran flies and show morphologically a very similar early development. However, these two species are evolutionary separated by at least 100 million years. This presents the opportunity for a comparative analysis of segmentation gene expression across a large evolutionary distance in a very similar embryonic background. We have analysed in detail the early expression of the maternal gene bicoid, the gap genes hunchback, Kruppel, knirps and tailless, the pair-rule gene hairy, the segment-polarity gene engrailed and the homoeotic gene Ultrabithorax. We show that the primary expression domains of these genes are conserved, while some secondary expression aspects have diverged. Most notable is the finding of hunchback expression in 11–13 stripes shortly before gastrulation, as well as a delayed expression of terminal domains of various genes. We conclude that the early developmental gene hierarchy, as it has been defined in Drosophila, is evolutionary conserved in Musca domestica.

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