The string (stg) locus of Drosophila encodes a factor that is thought to trigger mitosis by activating the p34cdc2 protein kinase. stg is required for mitosis early in development and is transcribed in a dynamic pattern that anticipates the pattern of embryonic cell divisions. Here we show that differential cell cycle regulation during postblastoderm development (cell cycles 14-16) occurs in G2. We demonstrate that stg mRNA expressed from a heat shock promotor triggers mitosis, and an associated S phase, in G2 cells during these cycles. Hence, differential cell cycle timing at this developmental stage is controlled by stg. Finally, we use heat-induced stg expression to alter the normal pattern of embryonic mitoses. Surprisingly, the complex mitotic pattern evident during normal development is not essential for many features of pattern formation or for viability.