Using serial semi-thin sections and digital 3D-reconstructions we studied the nervous systems of zoea-I larvae in three decapod species, Hippolyte inermis (Leach, 1815), Porcellana platycheles (Pennant, 1777), and Pachygrapsus marmoratus (Fabricius, 1787). These taxa represent three decapod lineages, that is, Caridea, Anomura, and Brachyura, each characterized by specific zoea-I morphology. Special attention was paid to development of ganglia, neuropil composition, and segmental nerves. In all zoeae studied, the overall elements, for example, the segmental ganglia, their neuropils and most of the nerves of the adult decapod nervous system are present. Ongoing differentiation processes are observable as well, most obvious in segments with well-developed limbs the ganglia are in a more advanced stage of differentiation and more voluminous compared to segments with only limb buds or without externally visible limb anlagen. Intra- and interspecific comparisons indicate that neuromere differentiation thus deviates from a simple anterior–posterior gradient as, for example, posterior thoracic neuromeres are less developed than those of the pleon. In addition, the differences in the progress of the development of ganglia between the studied taxa can best be attributed to heterochronic mechanisms. Taxon and stage-specific morphologies indicate that neuronal architecture reflects both, morphogenesis to the adult stage and specific larval adaptions, and provides sets of characters relevant to understanding the corresponding phylogeny. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 320B: 511–524, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.