A monoclonal antibody (SP1/20.3.1) that recognizes a cell surface epitope expressed by pigment cells in the pluteus larva of Strongylocentrotus purpuratus has been produced. Using indirect immunofluorescence, the epitope is first detected in nonpigmented cells of the vegetal plate after primary mesenchyme ingression. Between the beginning of gastrulation, and when the archenteron is one-third the distance across the blastocoel, SP1/20.3.1-positive cells are free within the blastocoel, at the tip of the archenteron, and dispersed within the blastoderm. Cells at the tip of the archenteron, and mesenchyme near the tip in later stages of gastrulation (secondary mesenchyme), do not express the SP1/20.3.1 antigen. By the completion of gastrulation all SP1/20.3.1-positive cells are dispersed throughout the epidermis. It has been concluded that in S. purpuratus pigment cell precursors are released from the vegetal plate during the initial phase of gastrulation. The cells migrate first to the vegetal ectoderm, and subsequently disperse throughout the ectoderm and develop pigment granules.