The discovery of hydrothermal vents along the Galapagos Rift in 1977 opened up one of the most dynamic and productive research themes in marine biology. In the intervening 25 years, hydrothermal vent faunas have been described from the eastern, northeastern and western Pacific, the mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Indian Ocean in the region of the Rodriguez Triple Junction. In addition, there is evidence of hydrothermal signals from the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic, the central and southwest Indian Ridges and the Scotia Arc in Antarctica. Although often perceived as a continuous linear structure, there are many discontinuities that have given rise to separate biogeographic provinces. In addition, the intervening 25 years have seen a massive increase in our understanding of the biological processes at hydrothermal vents. However, how vents are maintained, and how new vents are colonised has been relatively poorly understood until recently. This review addresses the known larval development of vent-endemic invertebrates. The distribution of larvae in relation to the hydrothermal plume, and the ocean ridge in general, are discussed and the experimental evidence of larval longevity and transport are discussed using such variables as gene flow and larval development rates. The concept of larval dispersal along the mid-ocean ridge is discussed in relation to dispersal barriers and relates the known biogeography of hydrothermal vent systems to both local and evolutionary processes.