Autophagy delivers cytoplasmic material to lysosomes for degradation. First identified in yeast, the core genes that control this process are conserved in higher organisms. Studies of mammalian cell cultures have expanded our understanding of the core autophagy pathway, but cannot reveal the unique animal-specific mechanisms for the regulation and function of autophagy. Multicellular organisms have different types of cells that possess distinct composition, morphology, and organization of intracellular organelles. In addition, the autophagic machinery integrates signals from other cells and environmental conditions to maintain cell, tissue and organism homeostasis. Here, we highlight how studies of autophagy in flies and worms have identified novel core autophagy genes and mechanisms, and provided insight into the context-specific regulation and function of autophagy.