The turbulent structure in the near field of heated jets was investigated at a Reynolds number of 10 000 for density ratios between 1.0 and 0.5; the corresponding mixing and entrainment of these low density jets was examined. The exit conditions of the jet were carefully controlled using extension tubes to alter the nozzle-exit boundary layer thickness, as well as using screens to generate turbulent conditions while keeping the boundary layer thickness approximately constant. Heated jets with initially laminar exit conditions were dominated by the formation and pairing of vortex structures. Increasing the boundary layer thickness produced longer wavelength structures which saturated and paired at farther downstream distances; under these conditions jet momentum mixing was reduced, giving rise to an increase in the jet potential core length. The shear layer structures also became more organized as the jet density was reduced relative to the density of the ambient fluid, resulting in increased momentum mixing and a dramatic visual spreading of the jet. Turbulent exit conditions disrupted the formation of these large-scale vortex structures for all of the density ratios investigated, producing smaller spreading rates and significantly lower mixing and entrainment.