Programmed cell death is a critical process for the patterning and sculpting of organs during development. The Drosophila arista, a feather-like structure at the tip of the antenna, is composed of a central core and several lateral branches. A homozygous viable mutation in the thread gene, which encodes an inhibitor of apoptosis protein, produces a branchless arista. We have found that mutations in the proapoptotic gene hid lead to numerous extra branches, suggesting that the level of cell death determines the number of branches in the arista. Consistent with this idea, we have found that thread mutants show excessive cell death restricted to the antennal imaginal disc during the middle third instar larval stage. These findings point to a narrow window of development in which regulation of programmed cell death is essential to the proper formation of the arista.