Somatosensory neurons in teleosts and amphibians are sensitive to thermal, mechanical, or nociceptive stimuli [1, 2]. The two main types of such cells in zebrafish--Rohon-Beard and trigeminal neurons--have served as models for neural development [3-6], but little is known about how they encode tactile stimuli. The hindbrain networks that transduce somatosensory stimuli into a motor output encode information by using very few spikes in a small number of cells , but it is unclear whether activity in the primary receptor neurons is similarly efficient. To address this question, we manipulated the activity of zebrafish neurons with the light-activated cation channel, Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) [8, 9]. We found that photoactivation of ChR2 in genetically defined populations of somatosensory neurons triggered escape behaviors in 24-hr-old zebrafish. Electrophysiological recordings from ChR2-positive trigeminal neurons in intact fish revealed that these cells have extremely low rates of spontaneous activity and can be induced to fire by brief pulses of blue light. Using this technique, we find that even a single action potential in a single sensory neuron was at times sufficient to evoke an escape behavior. These results establish ChR2 as a powerful tool for the manipulation of neural activity in zebrafish and reveal a degree of efficiency in coding that has not been found in primary sensory neurons.