To determine how each new generation of the sea urchin cardinalfish Siphamia versicolor acquires the symbiotic luminous bacterium Photobacterium mandapamensis, and when in its development the S. versicolor initiates the symbiosis, procedures were established for rearing S. versicolor larvae in an aposymbiotic state. Under the conditions provided, larvae survived and developed for 28 days after their release from the mouths of males. Notochord flexion began at 8 days post release (dpr). By 28 dpr, squamation was evident and the caudal complex was complete. The light organ remained free of bacteria but increased in size and complexity during development of the larvae. Thus, aposymbiotic larvae of the fish can survive and develop for extended periods, major components of the luminescence system develop in the absence of the bacteria and the bacteria are not acquired directly from a parent, via the egg or during mouth brooding. Presentation of the symbiotic bacteria to aposymbiotic larvae at 8–10 dpr, but not earlier, led to initiation of the symbiosis. Upon colonization of the light organ, the bacterial population increased rapidly and cells forming the light-organ chambers exhibited a differentiated appearance. Therefore, the light organ apparently first becomes receptive to colonization after 1 week post-release development, the symbiosis is initiated by bacteria acquired from the environment and bacterial colonization induces morphological changes in the nascent light organ. The abilities to culture larvae of S. versicolor for extended periods and to initiate the symbiosis in aposymbiotic larvae are key steps in establishing the experimental tractability of this highly specific vertebrate and microbe mutualism.