In Xenopus embryos, cell cycle elongation and degradation of Cdc25A (a Cdk2 Tyr15 phosphatase) occur naturally at the midblastula transition (MBT), at which time a physiological DNA replication checkpoint is thought to be activated by the exponentially increased nucleo-cytoplasmic ratio. Here we show that the checkpoint kinase Chk1, but not Cds1 (Chk2), is activated transiently at the MBT in a maternal/zygotic gene product-regulated manner and is essential for cell cycle elongation and Cdc25A degradation at this transition. A constitutively active form of Chk1 can phosphorylate Cdc25A in vitro and can target it rapidly for degradation in pre-MBT embryos. Intriguingly, for this degradation, however, Cdc25A also requires a prior Chk1-independent phosphorylation at Ser73. Ectopically expressed human Cdc25A can be degraded in the same way as Xenopus Cdc25A. Finally, Cdc25A degradation at the MBT is a prerequisite for cell viability at later stages. Thus, the physiological replication checkpoint is activated transiently at the MBT by developmental cues, and activated Chk1, only together with an unknown kinase, targets Cdc25A for degradation to ensure later development.