Abstract Pigment cell precursors in the vegetal plate of late mesenchyme blastulae of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus begin to express a cell surface epitope recognized by the monoclonal antibody SP-1/20.3.1. When one-quarter gastrulae are dissociated into ectodermal and mesenchymal fractions, most SP-1/20.3.1 immunoreactive cells separate into the mesenchymal fraction, whereas at the full gastrula and all later stages almost all epitope-bearing cells are in the ectodermal fraction. Exposure of embryos to sulfate-free seawater p-nitrophenyl β- d-xyloside, and tunicamycin, all of which prevent primary mesenchyme migration, does not inhibit SP-1/20.3.1 immunoreactive cells from distributing similarly to those in controls, although pigment synthesis is completely inhibited in sulfate-free conditions. Time-lapse video sequences reveal that pigment cells, and a small set of rapidly migrating, SP-1/20.3.1 immunoreactive amoeboid cells that appear in the pluteus, remain closely associated with the ectodermal epithelium during most of larval development. Transmission electron microscopy observations of plutei show pigment cells tightly apposed to the ectodermal epithelium at discontinuities in the basal lamina and sandwiched between the basal lamina and the epithelial cells. It is concluded that SP-1/20.3.1 immunoreactive mesenchymal cells invade the ectodermal epithelium and may use migratory substrates other than those used by primary mesenchymal cells.