Insect octopamine receptors are G-protein coupled receptors. They can be coupled to second messenger pathways to mediate either increases or decreases in intracellular cyclic AMP levels or the generation of intracellular calcium signals. Insect octopamine receptors were originally classified on the basis of second messenger changes induced in a variety of intact tissue preparations. Such a classification system is problematic if more than one receptor subtype is present in the same tissue preparation. Recent progress on the cloning and characterization in heterologous cell systems of octopamine receptors from Drosophila and other insects is reviewed. A new classification system for insect octopamine receptors into "alpha-adrenergic-like octopamine receptors (OctalphaRs)", "beta-adrenergic-like octopamine receptors (OctbetaRs)" and "octopamine/tyramine (or tyraminergic) receptors" is proposed based on their similarities in structure and in signalling properties with vertebrate adrenergic receptors. In future studies on the molecular basis of octopamine signalling in individual tissues it will be essential to identify the relative expression levels of the different classes of octopamine receptor present. In addition, it will be essential to identify if co-expression of such receptors in the same cells results in the formation of oligomeric receptors with specific emergent pharmacological and signalling properties.