The vast body of ballast water carried across oceans by freight ships represents a major source for the introduction of foreign species into marine ecosystems. The worm Marenzelleria viridis, originally found only in North America, appeared in estuaries of the North Sea in 1979 and 6 years later also in the Baltic, where it has developed into a major faunal element. Two competing hypotheses are discussed here: either both populations owe their presence to a single introductory event in the North Sea, or each population originated from a separate introduction. Our phylogeographic analysis of Baltic, North Sea and American Marenzelleria, based on mitochondrial 16S rDNA sequences (326-bp segment) of 98 individuals from 17 localities on the North American, North Sea, and Baltic coasts not only favors the two-event hypothesis, but also separates the locations of origin for the introductions. Eighteen mitochondrial genotypes were identified altogether. In agreement with allozyme data, three lineages were identified: genotypes assigned to the same lineage differed from each other by up to 5 point mutations, and those assigned to different lineages differed by up to 17. The existence of three morphologically indistinguishable, and thus cryptic, species is therefore suggested. The individuals from the Baltic Sea probably originated from the Atlantic coast of the United States between Chesapeake Bay and Georgia, and the North Sea populations may stem from the U.S. coast region north of Chesapeake Bay to Nova Scotia. Despite their similar morphologies, the two European Marenzelleria species may differ ecologically with respect to their preference for habitat salinity. Assuming that transport via ballast water occurs quite frequently, we hypothesize that both European cryptic species of Marenzelleria may originally have been introduced to both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea but that neither of them was able to proliferate in both water bodies owing to their differential physiological performances at high and low salinities.