Abstract The fatty acid, sterol and chlorophyll pigment compositions of the marine dinoflagellates Gymnodinium wilczeki and Prorocentrum cordatum are reported. The fatty acids of both algae show a typical dinoflagellate distribution pattern with a predominance of C 18, C 20 and C 22 unsaturated components. The acid 18:5ω3 is present at high concentration in these two dinoflagellates. G. wilczeki contains a high proportion (93.4%) of 4-methyl-5α-stanols including 4,23,24-trimethyl-5α-cholest-22 E-en-3β-ol (dinosterol), dinostanol and 4,23,24-trimethyl-5α-cholest-7-en-3β-ol reported for the first time in dinoflagellates. The role of this sterol in the biosynthesis of 5α-stanols in dinoflagellates is discussed. P. cordatum contains high concentrations of a number of δ 24(28)-sterols with dinosterol, 24-methylcholesta-5,24(28)-dien-3β-ol, 23,24-dimethylcholesta-5,22 E-dien-3β-ol, 4,24-dimethyl-5α-cholest-24(28)-en-3β-ol and a sterol identified as either 4,23,24-trimethyl- or 4-methyl-24-ethyl-5α-cholest-24(28)-en-3β-ol present as the five major components. The role of marine dinoflagellates in the input of both 4-methyl- and 4-desmethyl-5α-stanols to marine sediments is discussed.