The formation of the vertebrate optic cup is a morphogenetic event initiated after the optic vesicle contacts the overlying surface/pre-lens ectoderm. Placodes form in both the optic neuroepithelium and lens ectoderm. Subsequently, both placodes invaginate to form the definitive optic cup and lens, respectively. We examined the role of the lens tissue in inducing and/or maintaining optic cup invagination in ovo. Lens tissue was surgically removed at various stages of development, from pre-lens ectoderm stages to invaginating lens placode. Removal of the pre-lens ectoderm resulted in persistent optic vesicles that initiated neural retinal differentiation but failed to invaginate. In striking contrast, ablation of the lens placode gave rise to optic vesicles that underwent invagination and formed the optic cup. The results suggest that: (1) the optic vesicle neuroepithelium requires a temporally specific association with pre-lens ectoderm in order to undergo optic cup morphogenesis; and (2) the optic cup can form in the absence of lens formation. If ectopic BMP is added, a neural retina does not develop and optic cup morphogenesis fails, although lens formation appears normal. FGF-induced neural retina differentiation in the absence of the pre-lens ectoderm is not sufficient to create an optic cup. We hypothesize the presence of a signal coming from the pre-lens ectoderm that induces the optic vesicle to form an optic cup.