Holometabolous insects undergo larval moulting and metamorphosis within their life cycle. A cDNA encoding the cathepsin L-like proteinase Ha-cathL has been cloned from Helicoverpa armigera. It has a sequence of 1826 bp and encodes a 550-residue protein with a molecular mass of 63 kDa. Northern blot analysis indicated that Ha-cathL is specifically expressed in haemocytes, with increased expression during larval moulting and metamorphosis. In vivo experimentation revealed that Ha-cathL is up-regulated by 20-hydroxyecdysone. Meanwhile, in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry revealed that Ha-cathL mRNA is mainly expressed in granulocytes and plasmatocytes. Knock down of cathepsin L by RNA interference results in larvae death before pupation or the formation of a chimeric pupa containing a larval head and thorax, abnormal wings and the pupal abdomen. The reason for this is that the affected haemocytes cannot become granulated, and therefore cannot participate in fat body remodelling and wing development. These facts suggest that Ha-cathL is involved in larval moulting and metamorphosis by participating in the functioning of haemocytes.