Ectoderm is one of three germ layers--groups of cells that coalesce early during the embryonic life of all animals except maybe sponges, and from which organs and tissues form. As an embryo develops, a single fertilized cell progresses through multiple rounds of cell division. Eventually, the clump of cells goes through a stage called gastrulation, during which the embryo reorganizes itself into the three germ layers: endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm. After gastrulation, the embryo goes through a process called neurulation, which starts the development of nervous system.
This diagram shows how NCCs migrate differently in rats, birds and amphibians. The arrows represent both chronology of NCCs migration and the differential paths that NCCs follow in different classes of animals. The solid black portion of each illustration represents the neural crest, and the large black dots in (c) and in (f) represent the neural crest cells. The speckled sections that at first form a basin in (a) and then close to form a tube in (f) represent the neural ectoderm. The solid white portions represent the epidermal ectoderm.