Genome sizes (nuclear DNA contents) from 200 individuals representing 20 species of North American cyprinid fishes (minnows) were examined spectrophotometrically. The distributions of DNA values of individuals within populations of the 20 species were essentially continuous and normal; the distribution of DNA values among species was continuous and overlapping. These observations suggest that changes in DNA quantity in cyprinids are small in amount, involve both gains and losses of DNA, and are cumulative and independent in effect. Significant heterogeneity in mean genome size occurs both between individuals within populations of species and among species. The former averages maximally around 6% of the cyprinid genome and is nearly the same as the amount of DNA theoretically needed for the entire cyprinid structural gene component. The majority of the DNA content variation among the 20 species is distributed above the level of individuals within populations. Comparisons of average genome size difference or distance between individuals drawn from different levels of taxonomic organization indicate that considerably greater divergence in genome size has occurred in the extremely speciose cyprinid genus Notropis as compared with other North American cyprinid genera. This may suggest that genome size change is concentrated in speciation episodes. Finally, no associations were found between interspecific variation in genome size and five life-history characters. This suggests that much of the variation in genome size within and among the 20 species may be phenotypically inconsequential.