Changes in energy metabolism during larval development in Caenorhabditis elegans have been investigated using phosphorus nuclear magnetic resonance (31P NMR). The relative concentrations of ATP, ADP, AMP, sugar phosphates, and other metabolites were observed to change during larval development, producing stage-specific spectra. These spectra are consistent with enzyme assays for isocitrate dehydrogenase and isocitrate lyase, indicating that high activity of the glyoxylate pathway during embryonic development decreases during the first larval (L1) stage, and respiration during the L2, L3, and L4 stages occurs preferentially through the TCA cycle. Metabolic strategies were further studied using mutants that are predisposed to enter the dauer stage, a developmentally arrested third-stage larva formed under conditions of overcrowding and limited food. After the L1 molt, energy metabolism in animals destined to become dauer larvae diverges from that of animals committed to growth. Relative to the L1, the L2 larvae committed to growth exhibit increased isocitrate dehydrogenase activity as well as increases in ATP and other high-energy phosphates, but predauer (L2d) larvae exhibit declining enzyme activities and declining levels of high-energy phosphates. The predominant phosphorus NMR signal in dauer larva extracts corresponds to inorganic phosphate. We conclude that metabolism is regulated during C. elegans larval development, with a major transition apparent after the L1 stage. This transition does not occur in larvae destined to form dauer larvae.