Rat embryos at a single gestational time in the presomite period were studied for their variation in development and their fate after culture. They were explanted at 8 A.M. on day 9 of gestation from timed-pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats which were obtained by mating between 8 and 10 A.M. (plug day = day 0). In the first experiment, a total of 203 embryos from 20 litters were examined for their variation in development. Several dimensions of embryo/egg cylinder were measured and development of various embryonic/extraembryonic structures were assessed using a scoring system that we developed for the present study. Embryos were then divided into different stages of development based on their scores using the staging system that we developed previously. A large variation in developmental stage was demonstrated; the youngest embryo was at the early primitive streak stage with no signs of amniotic folds and the oldest one was at the late neural plate stage with a foregut pocket but without visible somites. No strong correlation was demonstrated between developmental stage and size of embryo/egg cylinder, nor between developmental stage and development of the proamniotic tube, ectoplacental cavity, or allantois. In the second experiment, embryos were explanted at the same time and those at different stages were cultured separately in rotating bottles and their outcomes were compared after 49 hours. The difference in mean somites number of embryos cultured from the mid primitive streak and late neural plate stages was 6.1. This difference corresponds to approximately 10 hours based on the known linear increase of somites number on day 11 of approximately 0.6 somites per hour. These results indicate a large variation in development of presomite period embryos supposedly of the same gestational age and suggest the importance of careful staging at the time of explantation if precision is needed for whole embryo culture experiments.