Phagocytosis, the engulfment of material by cells, is a highly conserved process that arose before the development of multicellularity. Phagocytes have a key role in embryogenesis and also guard the portals of potential pathogen entry. They discriminate between diverse particles through the array of receptors expressed on their surface. In higher species, arguably the most sophisticated function of phagocytes is the processing and presentation of antigens derived from internalized material to stimulate lymphocytes and long-lived specific immunity. Central to these processes is the generation of a phagosome, the organelle that forms around internalized material. As we discuss in this Review, over the past two decades important insights into phagocytosis have been gleaned from studies in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster.