It is well known that the muscles of the vertebrate body are derived from the somite. Precursor cells within the somite proper form the back or axial muscles while other precursor cells migrate away from the somite to populate the muscle of the limbs and ventral body wall. Although both types of muscle are generally thought of as arising from a common progenitor population, the myotome, recent evidence points to developmental differences in these two groups of muscles which may reflect different developmental lineages. To test the lineage hypothesis, we used microsurgery and the chick-quail nucleolar marker system to follow the developmental fate of the lateral and medial halves of somites at the wing level. The results showed that the structures of the mature somite (myotome and sclerotome) are derived virtually exclusively from cells residing in the medial half of the newly formed somite. On the other hand, virtually all of the cells residing in the lateral half of the newly formed somite are destined to leave the somite proper and populate the limb muscle and, probably, other somite-derived mesenchymal structures in the limb and ventral body wall. Switch-graft experiments show that the two halves of newly formed somites are largely interchangeable demonstrating that their ultimate developmental fate is position-dependent and that it becomes fixed as a result of extrinsic influences which act during later stages of somitogenesis. We conclude that at least two distinct myogenic lineages exist in the somite; one giving rise to the muscles of the back and the other giving rise to the limb musculature.