The development and properties of locomotor behaviors in zebrafish embryos raised at 28.5 degrees C were examined. When freed from the chorion, embryonic zebrafish showed three sequential stereotyped behaviors: a transient period of alternating, coiling contractions followed by touch-evoked rapid coils, then finally, organized swimming. The three different behaviors were characterized by video microscopy. Spontaneous, alternating contractions of the trunk appeared suddenly at 17 h postfertilization (hpf), with a frequency of 0.57 Hz, peaked at 19 hpf at 0.96 Hz, and gradually decreased to <0.1 Hz by 27 hpf. Starting at 21 hpf, touching either the head or the tail of the embryos resulted in vigorous coils. The coils accelerated with development, reaching a maximum speed of contraction before 48 hpf, which is near the time of hatching. After 27 hpf, touching the embryos, particularly on the tail, could induce partial coils (instead of full coils). At this time, embryos started to swim in response to a touch, preferentially to the tail. The swim cycle frequency gradually increased with age from 7 Hz at 27 hpf to 28 Hz at 36 hpf. Lesions of the central nervous system rostral to the hindbrain had no effect on the three behaviors. Lesioning the hindbrain eliminated swimming and touch responses, but not the spontaneous contractions. Our observations suggest that the spontaneous contractions result from activation of a primitive spinal circuit, while touch and swimming require additional hindbrain inputs to elicit mature locomotor behaviors.