In recent years, with the wide applications and mineral exploitation of rare earth elements, their potential environmental and health effects have caused increasing public concern. Effect of rare earth elements La and Yb on the morphological and functional development of zebrafish embryos were studied. The embryos were exposed to La3+ or Yb3+ at 0, 0.01, 0.1, 0.3, 0.5 and 1.0 mmol/L, respectively. Early life stage parameters such as egg and embryo mortality, gastrula development, tail detachment, eyes, somite formation, circulatory system, pigmentation, malformations, hatching rate, length of larvae and mortality were investigated. The results showed La3+ and Yb3+ delayed zebrafish embryo and larval development, decreased survival and hatching rates, and caused tail malformation in a concentration-dependent way. Moreover, heavy rare-earth ytterbium led to more severe acute toxicity of zebrafish embryo than light rare-earth lanthanum.