The Hox/homeotic genes encode transcription factors that generate segmental diversity during Drosophila development. At the level of the whole animal, they are believed to carry out this role by regulating a large number of downstream genes. Here we address the unresolved issue of how many Hox target genes are sufficient to define the identity of a single cell. We focus on the larval oenocyte, which is restricted to the abdomen and induced in response to a non-cell autonomous, transient and highly selective input from abdominal A (abdA). We use Hox mutant rescue assays to demonstrate that this function of abdA can be reconstituted by providing Rhomboid (Rho), a processing factor for the EGF receptor ligand, secreted Spitz. Thus, in order to make an oenocyte, abdA regulates just one principal target, rho, that acts at the top of a complex hierarchy of cell-differentiation genes. These studies strongly suggest that, in at least some contexts, Hox genes directly control only a few functional targets within each nucleus. This raises the possibility that much of the overall Hox downstream complexity results from cascades of indirect regulation and cell-to-cell heterogeneity.