The head region of rat embryos was investigated by scanning electron microscopy after removal of the surface ectoderm with adhesive tape. Observations were made in embryos from 6-somite to 11-somite stages of development, in order to determine: (1) the sequence of emigration of neural crest cells from the different regions of the future brain; (2) the appearance of crest cells before, during, and after their conversion from an epithelial to a mesenchymal form; (3) the migration pathways. Emigration occurs first from the midbrain, and next from the rostral hindbrain; crest cells from these two regions migrate into the first visceral arch. Subsequently cells emigrate from the caudal hindbrain, but not in a rostrocaudal sequence. At the time of crest cell emigration, the neural fold morphology varies from a slightly convex, widely open plate (midbrain) to a closed tube (caudal hindbrain). Thus the timing of emigration is related neither to age (as reflected in rostrocaudal levels) nor to morphology of the neural epithelium.