Ciliated olfactory receptor neurons in vertebrates turn over throughout life. We show that these neurons bear different types of cilia at different developmental stages; cilia on newly differentiating cells are short and motile; cilia on mature cells are longer and immotile; Mg2+ and adenosine 5'-triphosphate are requisite for ciliary motion; stimulation with odorants can induce synchronous motion and that this process is mediated by Ca2+. We propose that receptor neurons have two distinguishable developmental states. In the first, before the growing axon establishes synaptic connection to the brain, the cells bear motile cilia and are generally irritable. In the second, the cilia are long and immotile and the cells can distinguish between odorants.