The association between embryos of the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) and green algae ("Oophila amblystomatis" Lamber ex Printz) has been considered an ectosymbiotic mutualism. We show here, however, that this symbiosis is more intimate than previously reported. A combination of imaging and algal 18S rDNA amplification reveals algal invasion of embryonic salamander tissues and cells during development. Algal cells are detectable from embryonic and larval Stages 26-44 through chlorophyll autofluorescence and algal 18S rDNA amplification. Algal cell ultrastructure indicates both degradation and putative encystment during the process of tissue and cellular invasion. Fewer algal cells were detected in later-stage larvae through FISH, suggesting that the decline in autofluorescent cells is primarily due to algal cell death within the host. However, early embryonic egg capsules also contained encysted algal cells on the inner capsule wall, and algal 18S rDNA was amplified from adult reproductive tracts, consistent with oviductal transmission of algae from one salamander generation to the next. The invasion of algae into salamander host tissues and cells represents a unique association between a vertebrate and a eukaryotic alga, with implications for research into cell-cell recognition, possible exchange of metabolites or DNA, and potential congruence between host and symbiont population structures.