Evolutionary, developmental and insect biologists are currently using a three-pronged approach to study the evolution and development of the insect head. First, genetic manipulation of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has led to the identification of many genes, including the segmentation and homeotic genes, that are important for embryonic pattern formation and development. Second, a comparison of orthologous gene expression patterns in other insects reveals that these regulatory genes are deployed in similar, yet distinct, patterns in different insects. Third, comparisons of embryonic morphology with gene expression patterns suggest that in general these genes promote a common insect body plan, but that variations in gene expression can often be correlated to variations in morphology. Here, we present a detailed review of the development of the cephalic ectoderm of Drosophila and extrapolate to development of a generalized insect head. Our analysis of the variations among insect species, in both morphology and gene expression patterns, conducted within an evolutionary framework supported by traditional phylogenies and paleontology provides the basis for hypotheses about the genetic factors governing morphologic and developmental evolution.