Genetic variation of the more complex retroviruses in the human T-cell leukemia virus/bovine leukemia virus (HTLV/BLV) group is less than in some other retroviral genera. To test whether reverse transcription of HTLV/BLV group members is less error prone than that of members of other groups, we developed an assay for detecting forward mutations in BLV, similar to that developed for the simpler spleen necrosis virus (SNV). We used this system to study the rates and types of mutations that occur during a single replication cycle. We found that BLV reverse transcription is approximately two and one- half times less error prone than SNV reverse transcription (4.8 x 10-6 versus 1.2 x 10-5 mutation per bp per cycle, respectively). The relative numbers of all types of observed mutations (that is, base pair substitutions, frameshifts, deletions, and deletions with insertions) were similar for BLV and SNV.