Individual cells of the Caenorhabditis elegans secretory-excretory system were ablated by laser microbeam in various larval stages. Effects on growth, molting, osmoregulation, fertility, longevity, and dauer larva formation were tested. Single-cell ablations did not prevent subsequent molting, but ablation of the pore cell or the duct cell resulted in the absence of the normal cuticular lining of the excretory duct following a molt. When the pore cell, duct cell, or excretory cell was ablated, the animals filled with fluid within 12-24 hr and died within a few days, producing very few progeny. Ablation of the excretory gland cell, on the other hand, had no obvious developmental or behavioral effects. Excretory activity was monitored in dauer larvae by observing pulsation of the excretory duct in conditions of differing osmolarity. The rate of pulsation was quite variable over time in conditions of low osmotic strength, but average five- to six-fold higher than that observed in buffered saline. These observations, combined with the effects of laser ablation, lead to the conclusion that one function of the excretory system is osmoregulation.