The cell cycle is strictly regulated during development and its regulation is essential for organ formation and developmental timing. Here we observed the pattern of DNA replication in swimming larvae of an ascidian, Ciona intestinalis. Usually, Ciona swimming larvae obtain competence for metamorphosis at about 4–5 h after hatching, and these competent larvae initiate metamorphosis soon after they adhere to substrate with their papillae. In these larvae, three major tissues (epidermis, endoderm and mesenchyme) showed extensive DNA replication with distinct pattern and timing, suggesting tissue-specific cell cycle regulation. However, DNA replication did not continue in aged larvae which kept swimming for several days, suggesting that the cell cycle is arrested in these larvae at a certain time to prevent further growth of adult organ rudiments until the initiation of metamorphosis. Inhibition of the cell cycle by aphidicolin during the larval stage affects only the speed of metamorphosis, and not the formation of adult organ rudiments or the timing of the initiation of metamorphosis. However, after the completion of tail resorption, DNA replication is necessary for further metamorphic events. Our data showed that DNA synthesis in the larval trunk is not directly associated with the organization of adult organs, but it contributes to the speed of metamorphosis after settlement.