Distinct changes in epidermal cell shaping largely define the overall pattern of growth and form during generation of the ectodermal ridge and early stages of fin fold morphogenesis. The epidermal portion of the ridge and early fin fold are formed from a strip of epidermal cells that is only six to nine cells wide. There is apparently no increase in the number of these cells during initial formation of the ridge and its subsequent conversion into a fin fold which contains extracellular matrix fibres. Epidermal cells adopt a wedge-shaped morphology during ridge production. Distinct changes in the shaping and contact relationships between basal portions of these cells generate intercellular spaces at several discrete loci within the ridge. These spaces become continuous with each other to form a subepidermal space. Hence, the subepidermal space is not produced by straight-forward folding of an epidermal sheet. Cells flanking the sides of the ridge start to flatten as it is converted into a fin fold. A continuous row of distinctive cells is positioned along the apex of the developing fold. The term 'cleft cells' is suggested for these apical cells. Each cleft cell retains a wedge-shaped form during fold formation and develops a basal cleft-shaped invagination. Invaginations are aligned in neighbouring cleft cells so that these cells cap the distal boundary of the subepidermal space where collagenous extracellular fibres called actinotrichia run anteroposteriorly along the length of the fin fold. This orientation is in direct contrast to the proximodistal orientation of actinotrichia within the remainder of the subepidermal space. During early stages of fold production a temporary set of previously unreported extracellular cross fibres spans the subepidermal space at right angles to actinotrichia. These configurations of extracellular fibres could be advantageous for maintaining the structural integrity of the early fin fold.