Hemocytes from the solitary urochordate Styela clava can effect allogeneic cytotoxicity in vitro. Spectrophotometric and microscopic quantification of eosin‐y dye exclusion revealed significantly greater frequencies of cell death in allogeneic hemocyte cultures when compared to autogeneic controls. This cytotoxic response was characterized by 1) transient activity such that specific cytotoxicity could be detected for only 4 hours of culture though continued specific killing may have been obscured by spontaneous cell death; 2) a necessity for cellular interaction demonstrated by the elimination of allogeneic cytotoxicity in the absence of cell contact; 3) killing of multiple targets by effector cells due to high levels of response at low allogeneic ratios; 4) insensitivity to altered temperature; 5) increased cytotoxicity in the absence of autologous plasma; 6) an absence of xenogeneic reactivity; 7) the presence of three hierarchical levels (low, intermediate, and high) of response. These data reflect events involved in the recognition of allogeneic cellular determinants resulting in specific cytotoxicity effected by immunocompetent cells. Such in vitro recognition and cytotoxic recognition and cytotoxic reactivity may be responsible for adaptive reactions caused by histoincompatibility in solitary tunicates. © 1992 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.