We have used dlx genes to test the hypothesis of a separate developmental program for dermal and cartilage bones within the neuro- and splanchnocranium by comparing expression patterns of all eight dlx genes during cranial bone formation in zebrafish from 1 day postfertilization (dPF) to 15 dPF. dlx genes are expressed in the visceral skeleton but not during the formation of dermal or cartilage bones of the braincase. The spatiotemporal expression pattern of all the members of the dlx gene family, support the view that dlx genes impart cellular identity to the different arches, required to make arch-specific dermal bones. Expression patterns seemingly associated with cartilage (perichondral) bones of the arches, in contrast, are probably related to ongoing differentiation of the underlying cartilage rather than with differentiation of perichondral bones themselves. Whether dlx genes originally functioned in the visceral skeleton only, and whether their involvement in the formation of neurocranial bones (as in mammals) is secondary, awaits clarification. Developmental Dynamics 235:1371–1389, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.