We examined the effects of bathing saline Na+/K+ratio, bumetanide and hydrochlorothiazide on fluid and ion transport by serotonin-stimulated Malpighian tubules of Rhodnius prolixus. Previous pharmacological and electrophysiological studies indicate that a bumetanide-sensitive Na+/K+/2Cl–cotransporter is the primary route for basolateral ion entry into the cell during fluid secretion. The goal of this study was to resolve the apparent conflict between relatively high secretion rates by tubules bathed in K+-free saline and the evidence that Na+/K+/2Cl– cotransporters described in other systems have an absolute requirement for all three ions for translocation. Our measurements of fluid secretion rate, ion fluxes and electrophysiological responses to serotonin show that fluid secretion in K+-free saline is bumetanide sensitive and hydrochlorothiazide insensitive. Dose–response curves of secretion rate versusbumetanide concentration were identical for tubules bathed in K+-free and control saline with IC50 values of 2.6×10–6 mmol l–1 and 2.9×10–6 mmol l–1, respectively. Double-reciprocal plots of K+ flux versus bathing saline K+ concentration showed that increasing Na+concentration in the bathing fluid increased Kt but had no effect on Jmax, consistent with competitive inhibition of K+ transport by Na+. We propose that the competition between Na+ and K+ for transport by the bumetanide-sensitive transporter is part of an autonomous mechanism by which Malpighian tubules regulate haemolymph K+ concentration.