The shift of chloride cell distribution was investigated during early life stages of seawater-adapted killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus). Chloride cells were detected by immunocytochemistry with an an-tiserum specific for Na(+), K(+)-ATPase in whole-mount preparations and paraffin sections. Chloride cells first appeared in the yolk-sac membrane in the early embryonic stage, followed by their appearance in the body skin in the late embryonic stage. Immunoreactive chloride cells in the yolk-sac membrane and body skin often formed multicellular complexes, as evidenced by the presence of more than one nucleus. The principal site for chloride cell distribution shifted from the yolk-sac membrane and body skin during embryonic stages to the gill and opercular membrane in larval and later developmental stages. Our observations suggest that killifish embryos and newly-hatched larvae could maintain their ion balance through chloride cells present in the yolk-sac membrane and body skin until branchial and opercular chloride cells become functional.