Retinal pigment epithelial cells from chicks at various stages of development were examined by transmission electron microscopy to determine how the adult form of the zonula adhaerens, composed of subunits termed zonula adhaerens complexes, is acquired. During early stages of development, between embryonic day 4 and embryonic day 7, the intermembrane discs of zonula adhaerens complexes appear to be formed from material already present between the junctional membranes of the zonulae adhaerentes. In contrast, the cytoplasmic plaque material of the zonulae adhaerentes is difficult to detect before hatching; it is seen as a dense band along the junctional membranes at hatching and as individual subunits in register with the intermembrane discs in adult retinal pigment epithelial cells. After embryonic day 16, when the zonulae adhaerentes increase dramatically in size, single zonula adhaerens complexes are also present basal to the zonulae adhaerentes along the lateral cell membrane. This suggests that, during later stages of development, the junctions grow in size and/or turn over by the addition of pre-assembled zonula adhaerens complexes.