Thrips are members of the insect order Thysanoptera and Frankliniella occidentalis (the western flower thrips) is the most economically important pest within this order. F. occidentalis is both a direct pest of crops and an efficient vector of plant viruses, including Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV). Despite the world-wide importance of thrips in agriculture, there is little knowledge of the F. occidentalis genome or gene functions at this time. A normalized cDNA library was constructed from first instar thrips and 13 839 expressed sequence tags (ESTs) were obtained. Our EST data assembled into 894 contigs and 11 806 singletons (12 700 nonredundant sequences). We found that 31% of these sequences had significant similarity (E< or = 10(-10)) to protein sequences in the National Center for Biotechnology Information nonredundant (nr) protein database, and 25% were functionally annotated using Blast 2GO. We identified 74 sequences with putative homology to proteins associated with insect innate immunity. Sixteen sequences had significant similarity to proteins associated with small RNA-mediated gene silencing pathways (RNA interference; RNAi), including the antiviral pathway (short interfering RNA-mediated pathway). Our EST collection provides new sequence resources for characterizing gene functions in F. occidentalis and other thrips species with regards to vital biological processes, studying the mechanism of interactions with the viruses harboured and transmitted by the vector, and identifying new insect gene-centred targets for plant disease and insect control.