The time of first feeding is an important factor for establishing successful exogenous feeding in aquaculture hatcheries as it is crucial for larval survival and growth. The effects of delayed first feeding by the sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus larvae were investigated. Groups of larvae were fed immediately after completion of the digestive tract (fed control) or starved for 24, 48, 72, 108 and 120 h post fertilization. The growth rates of A. japonicus larvae were the same as those of the control group when first feeding was delayed for less than 72 h. When the period of starvation was beyond 72 h, growth rates were reduced. The fed control group had the highest percentage of late auricularia larvae (70.0%) on day 11, followed by the groups starved for 24, 48, and 72 h, respectively, which had 35.00%, 43.48% and 41.67% of late auricularia larvae. When larvae were starved for more than 72 h, the percentage of late auricularia larvae never exceeded 12.0%. Most larvae halted in development and were deformed before reaching metamorphosis when starved for 108 and 120 h. Prolonged exposure to starvation (more than 48 h) resulted in a significant decrease in percentage of larvae reaching settlement. The point-of-no-return (PNR) of A. japonicus larvae was calculated 110.4 h. Ratios of stomach length to total length, stomach width to total width were more sensitive to starvation than other larval morphometrics. To avoid mortality and obtain adequate growth and development, A. japonicus larvae in commercial culture should be fed within 48 h of the completion of the digestive tract.