Mesoderm formation is critical for the establishment of the animal body plan and in Drosophila requires the snail gene. This report concerns the cloning and expression pattern of the structurally similar gene snail1 from zebrafish. In situ hybridization shows that the quantity of snail1 RNA increases at the margin of the blastoderm in cells that involute during gastrulation. As gastrulation begins, snail1 RNA disappears from the dorsal axial mesoderm and becomes restricted to the paraxial mesoderm and the tail bud. snail1 RNA increases in cells that define the posterior border of each somite and then disappears when somitic cells differentiate. Later in development, expression appears in cephalic neural crest derivatives. Many snail1-expressing cells were missing from mutant spadetail embryos and the quantity of snail1 RNA was greatly reduced in mutant no tail embryos. The work presented here suggests that snail1 is involved in morphogenetic events during gastrulation, somitogenesis and development of the cephalic neural crest, and that no tail may act as a positive regulator of snail1.