The development of the thyroid tissue in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) embryos between 20 and 88 days postfertilization (dpf) was studied using traditional histological methods in combination with immunostaining using antibodies raised against L-thyroxine (T4) and triiodo-L-thyronine (T3). In 20 dpf embryos, the thyroid primordium appeared as a simple tube aligned with the dorsal surface of the ventral aorta. The tubular primordium becomes progressively bifurcated at each end and follicles are formed by pinching off balls of cells from the tips of the bifurcations. The secretory activity of the thyroid tissue appears first as a synthesis phase, evident at 30 dpf, characterized by T4 and T3 immunostaining present only in the follicle lumen. A later hormone release or secretory phase was first evident for T4 immunostaining at 43 dpf and for T3 immunostaining at 46 dpf and was characterized by the presence of immunostaining both within the follicle lumen and also in the cytoplasm of some (but not all) thyrocytes. This stage was also coincident with a marked increase in the number of pituitary thyrotrophs. The proportion of embryos exhibiting immunostained thyrocytes increased progressively from 43 to 52 dpf, at which stage all embryos had T4- and T3-immunostained thyrocytes.