It has been known since the 1930s that the dorsal fin is induced by the underlying neural crest. The inducer of the ventral fin, however, has remained elusive. We have investigated the source of the inducer of the ventral fin in Xenopus and show that it is the ventral mesoderm and not the neural crest. This induction takes place during mid-neurula stages and is completed by late neurulation. In terms of cell composition, the dorsal fin mesenchyme core arises from neural crest cells, while the mesenchyme of the ventral fin has a dual origin. The ventral fin contains neural crest cells that migrate in from the dorsal side of the embryo, but a contribution is also made by cells from the ventral mesoderm. (C) 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.