Vital staining with Janus Green, phase contrast and scanning electron microscopy were used to map the distribution of free neuromast organs from first hatching, 10 mm long larvae to 100 mm long juveniles of herring (Clupea harengus L.), with some further observations on juvenile sprat (Sprattus sprattus (L.)). Neuromasts are sparsely distributed on the head and trunk at hatching but soon proliferate on the trunk where, by a length of 13–15 mm, they occur one to every segment. Near metamorphosis there are at least three rows of neuromasts on the anterior trunk region, 6–9 single neuromasts on the caudal fin and as many as 50 on the head. The scales develop at about 40–50 mm and the neuromasts are then found singly or in groups of 2 or 3 on the surface of the scales of the anterior trunk.
The lateral line develops at 22–24 mm and appears to incorporate existing free neuromasts on the side of the head. Unlike the cupulae of the free neuromasts, which are cylindrical, the lateral-line cupulae are thin erect plates lying along the axis of the canals. They are probably continually growing and being shed, followed by renewed growth.
All neuromasts contain hair cells of opposing polarities; most free neuromasts are arranged with these polarities arranged fore-and-aft, but a few are dorsoventral.