In the fruit fly Drosophila, the patterning genes decapentaplegic and wingless contribute to the spatial control of retina development in an antagonistic manner. We examined the expression patterns of these genes in the developing visual system of the hemimetabolous grasshopper Schistocerca americana and the primitive holometabolous beetle species Tribolium castaneum. The pattern of wingless expression was strongly conserved as a pair of lateral domains at the anterior margins of both the developing retina and the developing optic lobes. The expression of decapentaplegic, on the other hand, is different. Unlike in Drosophila, no decapentaplegic expression was detected before the onset of photoreceptor differentiation in the retinal precursor tissue of either grasshopper or beetle. Moreover, the subsequent expression of decapentaplegic in the latter species was not concentrated in the moving front of retina differentiation, as in Drosophila, but observed in anterior and posterior regions. Our results indicate that Drosophila eye development contains elements of both ancestral and derived regulatory gene functions. The requirement for decapentaplegic as an antagonist of wingless during the early development of the Drosophila retina might have originated during the evolution of insect metamorphosis.