The zygotic effect gene snail (sna) encodes a zinc-finger protein required for mesoderm formation in Drosophila embryos. By in situ analysis, sna transcripts are first detected at syncytial blastoderm and persist until very late stages of embryogenesis. Expression of sna is transient and is observed in tissues derived from all three germ layers. Prior to germband elongation, sna RNA accumulation is consistent with its genetically determined role in mesoderm formation. Starting at germband elongation, a second phase of sna expression appears to be initiated, characterized by a highly dynamic accumulation of transcripts in the developing central and peripheral nervous systems. Translation of sna RNA is apparently delayed as the sna protein is not detected before the onset of gastrulation. Its regional distribution generally correlates with that of sna transcripts. The complex pattern of sna expression strongly suggests that the function of the gene is not restricted to mesoderm formation.