Study of developmental heart defects requires the visualization of the microstructure and function of the embryonic myocardium, ideally with minimal alterations to the specimen. We demonstrate multiple endogenous contrast optical techniques for imaging the Xenopus laevis tadpole heart. Each technique provides distinct and complementary imaging capabilities, including: 1.3-D coherence microscopy with subcellular (1 to 2 mu m) resolution in fixed embryos, 2. real-time reflectance confocal microscopy with large penetration depth in vivo, and 3. ultra-high speed (up to 900 frames per second) that enables real-time 4-D high resolution imaging in vivo. These imaging modalities can provide a comprehensive picture of the morphologic and dynamic phenotype of the embryonic heart. The potential of endogenous-contrast optical microscopy is demonstrated for investigation of the teratogenic effects of ethanol. Microstructural abnormalities associated with high levels of ethanol exposure are observed, including compromised heart looping and loss of ventricular trabecular mass. (C) 2007 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.