The roles of environmental stimuli in initiation and synchronization of circadian oscillation during development appear to vary among different rhythmic processes. In zebrafish, a variety of rhythms emerge in larvae only after exposure to light-dark (LD) cycles, whereas zebrafish period3 (per3) mRNA has been reported to be rhythmic from day 1 of development in constant conditions. We generated transgenic zebrafish in which expression of the firefly luciferase (luc) gene is driven by the zebrafish per3 promoter. Live larvae from these lines are rhythmically bioluminescent, providing the first vertebrate system for high-throughput measurement of circadian gene expression in vivo. Circadian rhythmicity in constant conditions was observed only after 5-6 d of development, and only if the fish were exposed to LD signals after day 4. Regardless of light exposure, a novel developmental profile was observed, with low expression during the first few days and a rapid increase when active swimming begins. Ambient temperature affected the developmental profile and overall levels of per3 and luc mRNA, as well as the critical days in which LD cycles were needed for robust bioluminescence rhythms. In summary, per3-luc zebrafish has revealed complex interactions among developmental events, light, and temperature in the expression of a clock gene.