In Drosophila melanogaster, the induction of apoptosis requires three closely linked genes, reaper (rpr), head involution defective (hid), and grim. The products of these genes induce apoptosis by activating a caspase pathway. Two very similar Drosophila caspases, DCP-1 and drICE, have been previously identified. We now show that DCP-1 has a substrate specificity that is remarkably similar to those of human caspase 3 and Caenorhabditis elegans CED-3, suggesting that DCP-1 is a death effector caspase. drICE and DCP-1 have similar yet different enzymatic specificities. Although expression of either in cultured cells induces apoptosis, neither protein was able to induce DNA fragmentation in Drosophila SL2 cells. Ectopic expression of a truncated form of dcp-1 (DeltaN-dcp-1) in the developing Drosophila retina under an eye-specific promoter resulted in a small and rough eye phenotype, whereas expression of the full-length dcp-1 (fl-dcp-1) had little effect. On the other hand, expression of either full-length drICE (fl-drICE) or truncated drICE (DeltaN-drICE) in the retina showed no obvious eye phenotype. Although active DCP-1 protein cleaves full-length DCP-1 and full-length drICE in vitro, GMR-DeltaN-dcp-1 did not enhance the eye phenotype of GMR-fl-dcp-1 or GMR-fl-drICE flies. Significantly, GMR-rpr and GMR-grim, but not GMR-hid, dramatically enhanced the eye phenotype of GMR-fl-dcp-1 flies. These results indicate that Reaper and Grim, but not HID, can activate DCP-1 in vivo.