We identified of a set of neuropeptide-expressing cells sited along the respiratory system of Drosophila melanogaster using an antibody to the molluscan neuropeptide myomodulin. The number and positions of these 'peritracheal' myomodulin (PM) cells were reminiscent of the epitracheal Inka cells in the moth Manduca sexta. These Inka cells release the peptide ecdysis-triggering hormone, which helps elicit ecdysial behavior at the molt, and we show that they are also recognized by the myomodulin (MM) antibody. In both D. melanogaster and M. sexta, the PM and Inka cells are the only MM-positive cells outside the central nervous system. In both insects, MM immunoreactivity disappears at the end of the molt. In D. melanogaster, we have monitored the PM cells throughout development using two enhancer trap lines; the PM cells persist throughout development, but at larval, pupal and adult ecdyses, they display a loss of MM immunoreactivity. This transient loss occurs at a predictable time, just prior to ecdysis. In contrast, MM-positive neurons in the central nervous system do not show these changes. The PM cells also reveal a concomitant loss of immunostaining for an enzyme contained in secretory granules. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that the PM cells release MM-like peptides just prior to each ecdysis. In addition, we demonstrate that peritracheal cells of five widely divergent insect orders show a myomodulin phenotype. The peritracheal cell size, morphology, numbers and distribution vary in these different orders. These data suggest that peritracheal cells release MM-like peptides as part of a conserved feature of the endocrine regulation of insect ecdysis.