In this report we describe three monoclonal antibodies which detect prepatterning events preceding the appearance of visible tips in Polysphondylium pallidum whorls. A spatial and temporal analysis of the antigens against which these antibodies are directed reveals that the radial distribution of arms within whorls has its origins in an initial global amplification of tip-specific antigens over the surface of very early whorl masses. This two-dimensional distribution becomes restricted with time to a single dimension, a smooth distribution of antigen in a band about the equator of the whorl mass. This equatorial distribution breaks up into patches which eventually become visible tips. These results reveal that a spatial pattern can arise from a smooth prepattern, and grow through a series of intermediates characteristic of the symmetry breaking model first described by A. Turing (1952). (Philos. Trans. R. Soc. London Ser. B 237, 37-72). © 1986.