SUMMARY The anterior sensory vesicle of ascidian larvae contains a single large vesicle in which lie two distinct types of pigment cells, anterior and posterior. The ultrastructure of these pigment cells suggests that the anterior pigment cell is an otolith, presumably used for gravity detection,and the posterior pigment cell is an ocellus, used for photoreception. However, there is no direct experimental evidence for this assignment of function. Upward swimming behaviour occurring during the initial period of larval life was examined before and after laser ablation of the anterior pigment and posterior pigment cells. Posterior pigment cell-ablated larvae retained the upward swimming behaviour, but anterior pigment cell-ablated larvae lost it. These results suggest that the anterior pigment acts as a gravity sensor. The negatively phototactic swimming during the latter part of larval life was also examined before and after laser ablation of the anterior pigment or posterior pigment cells. Anterior pigment cell-ablated larvae retained the phototactic response, but posterior pigment cell-ablated larvae lost it. These results suggest that the posterior pigment of the sensory vesicle is involved in the negatively phototactic, downward swimming behavior. The effect of pressure on swimming behaviour was studied, and a putative pressure-detection organ was found not to be involved in the larval swimming behaviour. These are the first published experimental results that permit a functional role in ascidian larval behavior to be assigned to the sensory organs.