The morphology of the first zoea of Gnathophyllum elegans is described from laboratory-reared material for the first time and analysed in detail with light and scanning electron microscopy. For systematic reasons, morphological characteristics in G. elegans are compared with those in Gnathophyllum americanum, Periclimenes amethysteus, a representative of the subfamily Pontoniinae and the closely related Hymenocera picta (Decapoda: Caridea: Hymenoceridae). We observed differences in the morphology of both Gnathophyllum-larvae, such as the number and arrangement of certain setae. Thus, larvae of the two Gnathophyllum species can be readily distinguished from each other. Further differential diagnosis with P. amethysteus confirms a high similarity between Gnathophyllum-larvae and larvae in the subfamily Pontoniinae, as already mentioned in earlier publications. The systematic relationships of the Gnathophyllidae, Hymenoceridae and Pontoniinae are discussed based on zoeal characters.