Morphogenetic movements of epithelia during development underlie the normal elaboration of the final body plan. The tissue integrity critical for these movements is conferred by anchorage of the cytoskeleton by adherens junctions, initially spot and later belt-like, zonular structures, which encircle the apical side of the cell. Loss-of-function mutations in the Drosophila genes crumbs and stardust lead to the loss of cell polarity in most ectodermally derived epithelia, followed in some, such as the epidermis, by extensive apoptosis. Here we show that both mutants fail to establish proper zonulae adherentes in the epidermis. Our results suggest that the two genes are involved in different aspects of this process. Further, they are compatible with the hypothesis that crumbs delimits the apical border, where the zonula adherens usually forms and where Crumbs protein is normally most abundant. In contrast, stardust seems to be required at an earlier stage for the assembly of the spot adherence junctions. In both mutants, the defect observed at the ultrastructural level are preceded by a misdistribution of Armadillo and DE-cadherin, the homologues of beta-catenin and E-cadherin, respectively, which are two constituents of the vertebrate adherens junctions. Strikingly, expansion of the apical membrane domain in epidermal cells by overexpression of crumbs also abolishes the formation of adherens junctions and results in the disruption of tissue integrity, but without loss of membrane polarity. This result supports the view that membrane polarity is independent of the formation of adherens junctions in epidermal cells.