Development of primary visual projections was examined in a lizard Ctenophorus ornatus by anterograde and retrograde tracing with DiI and by GAP-43 immunohistochemistry. Visual pathway development was essentially similar to that in birds and mammals and thus differed from patterns in fish or amphibians. A number of features characterised the development as mammalian-like. Three phases occurred in rapid succession after laying: outgrowth (2-3 weeks, early), exuberance (4-5 weeks, intermediate), and retraction to the adult pattern (6-8 weeks, late) at about the time of hatching and eye opening. Furthermore, ipsilateral projections developed with only a slight lag relative to the contralateral ones. The dorsally located fovea could be identified from early stages. Optic axons formed transient exuberant projections to the ipsilateral optic tectum, to the opposite optic nerve, and to nonvisual regions. The pattern resembled that formed in the long term by regenerating optic axons in C. ornatus (Dunlop et al. [2000b] J. Comp. Neurol. 416:188-200), suggesting that axons recognise molecular signals associated with the initial exuberant innervation but not those associated with subsequent refinement.