Evolution shaped the vertebrate ear into a complicated three-dimensional structure and positioned the sensory epithelia so that they can extract specific aspects of mechanical stimuli to govern vestibular and hearing-related responses of the whole organism. This information is conducted from the ear via specific neuronal connections to distinct areas of the hindbrain for proper processing. During development, the otic placode, a simple sheet of epidermal cells, transforms into a complicated system of ducts and recesses. This placode also generates the mechanoelectrical transducers, the hair cells, and sensory neurons of the vestibular and cochlear (spiral) ganglia of the ear. We argue that ear development can be broken down into dynamic processes that use a number of known and unknown genes to govern the formation of the three-dimensional labyrinth in an interactive fashion. Embedded in this process, but in large part independent of it, is an evolutionary conserved process that induces early the development of the neurosensory component of the ear. We present molecular data suggesting that this later process is, in its basic aspects, related to the mechanosensory cell formation across phyla and is extremely conserved at the molecular level. We suggest that sensory neuron development and maintenance are vertebrate or possibly chordate novelties and present the molecular data to support this notion.