In Drosophila, the Ultrabithorax, abdominal-A and Abdominal-B HOX genes of the bithorax complex determine the identity of part of the thorax and the whole abdomen. Either the absence of these genes or their ectopic expression transform segments into the identity of different ones along the antero-posterior axis. Here we show that misexpression of Ultrabithorax, abdominal-A and, to some extent, Abdominal-B genes cause similar transformations in some of the fruitfly appendages: antennal tissue into leg tissue and wing tissue into haltere tissue. abdominal-A can fully, and Abdominal-B partially, substitute for Ultrabithorax in haltere development. By contrast, when ectopically expressed, the three genes specify different segments in regions of the main body axis like notum or abdomen. Insects may have originally used the HOX genes primarily to specify this main body axis. By contrast, the homeotic requirement to form appendages is, in some cases, non-specific.