The length of eukaryotic cilia and flagella depends on the cell cycle-regulated assembly and disassembly of at least 9 doublet and 2 central microtubules, their associated proteins, and the surrounding membrane. In light-synchronized Chlamydomonas cells, flagella assembled to 10-14 microm in length near the beginning of the light period and they disassembled prior to cell division, during the dark period. Flagella on light-synchronized pf18 Chlamydomonas mutants grew to 10-12 microm near the beginning of the light period but shortened by 50% or more by the end of the light period. Flagellar length was cell-cycle regulated: when flagella were amputated at various times during the light period, new flagella regenerated to the lengths of control cells at that time of the light cycle. The later in the cycle pf18 cells were deflagellated, the shorter were the regenerated flagella. Flagellar shortening was not affected, in either pf18 or wild-type (wt) cells, by inhibitors of protein synthesis or of microtubule assembly, so flagellar length cannot depend on protein turnover. Shortening in pf18 was attenuated by Li+, which stimulated flagellar growth in wt cells, by red light, by protein kinase inhibitors, and by the Ca2+ channel blockers La3+ and Cd2+. Shortening was increased by cAMP, Na+, K+, and EGTA. Ca2+-CAM blockers did not affect pf18 shortening but they increased shortening in wt and fa1 cells. We propose that flagellar length is regulated by a signal transduction pathway that is sensitive to Ca2+ levels and red light.