Avian limb myoblasts originate from somites and migrate into the periphery during limb bud formation. It is not known how these precursors become arranged into a stereotyped pattern of muscles and primary fiber types. We used in vivo surgical transplantation and anatomical analyses of thigh muscle patterns to ask whether myoblasts migrating into the limb bud at different developmental times adopt different fates. When myoblast migration was interrupted by transplanting limb bud tissue to the coelomic cavity of a host embryo early in the migratory period (stages 16-early 17), few thigh muscles were found at stages 30-33. Primordia that were present corresponded to muscles that normally contain a majority of slow myotubes. In limbs transplanted slightly later (stages late 17-18), the only missing muscles were those that normally contain the highest numbers of fast myotubes. Parallel results were obtained in chimeric limbs made by transplanting a quail limb bud to a chick host at different times during the migratory period, an experimental situation in which the limbs were not depleted of muscle precursors or nerves. These findings suggest that the earliest myoblast migrants give rise mainly to slow primary myotubes, the later migrants to fast myotubes. To determine whether the early limb bud environment defines the fate of migrating myoblasts, we assessed fiber type patterns in limbs that developed from young limb bud tissue (stages 15-early 16) transplanted to older hosts (stage 17). A significant depletion of slow myosin-positive profiles was found within slow muscles. Fast muscles were generally normal in size. These results provide in vivo evidence that limb myoblast diversity arises prior to the entry of myoblasts into the limb. We suggest that there is a gradual change in the proportions of myoblasts capable of forming slow and fast fiber types, a change which may begin in the somites or early in the migratory period.