Apoptosis is a crucial feature of metazoan development that helps to shape tissues throughout the body. In Drosophila, Dronc - a caspase thought to act near the start of the apoptosis pathway - has been implicated in developmental apoptosis but its exact role has remained unclear. Now, on p. 2125, Xu and co-workers have used a novel mutagenesis screen in Drosophila to generate and characterise several loss-of-function dronc mutants. Their analysis of dronc-null embryos - and of the wings and eyes of the few dronc mutant flies that survived to adulthood - shows that dronc is essential for most apoptotic death during Drosophila development. The researchers' findings also reveal that dronc acts genetically downstream of the apoptosis inhibitor diap1 but, importantly, they note that some cells still undergo apoptosis in dronc mutants. Future studies should elucidate the nature of the dronc-independent pathway responsible for these deaths.