Programmed cell death is first observed at stage 11 of embryogenesis in Drosophila. The systematic removal of apoptotic cells is mediated by cells that are derived from the procephalic mesoderm and differentiate into macrophages. We describe a macrophage receptor for apoptotic cells. This receptor, croquemort (catcher of death), is a member of the CD36 superfamily. Croquemort-mediated phagocytosis represents the concept that phagocytosis evolved primarily as a cellular process for the removal of effete cells. Our findings support the idea that the primordial function of macrophages may have been in tissue modeling and that their adapted role is in host defense.