Many marine invertebrates reproduce through a larval stage. The settlement and metamorphosis of most of the species are synchronised and induced by environmental organisms, mainly bacteria. The hydrozoan Hydractinia echinata has become a model organism for metamorphosis of marine invertebrates. In this species, bacteria, e.g. Pseudoalteromonas espejiana, are the natural inducers of metamorphosis. Like in other species of marine invertebrates, metamorphosis can be induced artificially by monovalent cations, e.g. Cs+. In this study, we present systematic data that metamorphosis--with both inducing compounds, the natural one from bacteria and the artificial one Cs+--are indeed similar with respect to (a) the morphological progression, (b) the localisation of the primary induction signal in the larva, (c) the pattern of apoptotic cells occurring during the initial 10 h of metamorphosis and (d) the disappearance of RFamide-dependent immunocytochemical signals in sensory neurons during this process. However, a difference occurs during the development of the anterior end, insofar as apoptotic cells and settlement appear earlier in planulae induced with bacteria. Thus, basically, Cs+ may be used as an artificial inducer, mimicking the natural process. However, differences in the appearance of apoptotic cells and in settlement raise the question of how enormous developmental plasticity in hydrozoans actually can be, and how this is related to the absence of malignant devolution in hydrozoans.