The zebrafish midblastula transition (MBT) begins at cycle 10. It is characterized by cell cycle lengthening, loss of cell synchrony, activation of transcription and appearance of cell motility. Superceding a 15 minute oscillator that controls the first nine cycles, the nucleocytoplasmic ratio appears to govern the MBT. This timing mechanism operates cell autonomously: clones of labeled cells initiate cell cycle lengthening independently of neighbors but dependent on immediate lineal ancestors. Unequal divisions, when they occur, produce asymmetric cell cycle lengthening based on the volume of each daughter. During the several cycles after the MBT begins, cycle length is correlated with the reciprocal of the blastomere volume, suggesting a continuation of cell cycle regulation by the nucleocytoplasmic ratio during an interval that we term the ‘MBT period’.