C. elegans develops through four larval stages (L1 to L4) separated by molts. The identity of larval stages is mostly determined by stage-specific expression of heterochronic genes, which constitute an intrinsic genetic timer. However, extrinsic cues such as food availability or population density also modulate the developmental timing of C. elegans by mechanisms that remain largely unknown. To investigate a potential role of the nervous system in the temporal regulation of C. elegans development, we pharmacologically manipulated nicotinic neurotransmission, which represents a prominent signaling component in C. elegans nervous system. Exposure to the nicotinic agonist DMPP during post-embryonic development is lethal at the L2/L3 molt. Specifically, it delays cell divisions and differentiation during the L2 stage but does not affect the timing of the molt cycle, hence causing exposure of a defective L3 cuticle to the environment after the L2/L3 molt. Forcing development through a previously uncharacterized L2 diapause resynchronizes these events and suppresses DMPP-induced lethality. Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) containing the UNC-63 subunit are required, probably in neurons, to trigger the action of DMPP. Using a forward genetic screen, we further demonstrated that the nuclear hormone receptor (NHR) DAF-12 is necessary to implement the developmental effects of DMPP. Therefore, a novel neuroendocrine pathway involving nAChRs and the NHR DAF-12 can control the speed of stage-specific developmental events in C. elegans. Activation of DMPP-sensitive nAChRs during the second larval stage uncouples a molting timer and a developmental timer, thus causing a heterochronic phenotype that is lethal at the subsequent molt.