Insect haemolymph typically contains very high levels of free amino acids. This study shows that amino acids can modulate the secretion of ions and water by isolated Malpighian tubules of Rhodnius prolixus and Drosophila melanogaster. Secretion rates of Rhodnius tubules in amino-acid-free saline increase after addition of serotonin to a peak value, then slowly decline to a plateau. Addition of glutamine, glutamate or aspartate to such tubules increases secretion rates dramatically relative to the controls in amino-acid-free saline, and these increases are sustained for 1-2h. Seven other amino acids have more modest stimulatory effects, whereas lysine and arginine are inhibitory. Secreted fluid pH and Na+ concentration increase and K+ concentration decreases in response to glutamine. Pre-incubation of unstimulated tubules in saline solutions containing amino acids followed by stimulation with serotonin in amino-acid-free saline shows that the effects of amino acids far outlast the duration of exposure to them. Amino acids do not appear to be important as metabolites in Rhodnius tubules, nor do they act to draw significant amounts of water into the lumen by osmosis. Significant stimulation of fluid secretion can be achieved by physiological levels of particular amino acids, whereas those amino acids that inhibit fluid secretion only do so at concentrations much above those at which they occur naturally in the haemolymph. Secretion rates of unstimulated or stimulated Drosophila tubules are increased by pre-incubation in saline solutions containing glutamine or methionine or by continuous exposure to glutamine, methionine or tyrosine. Cysteine dramatically inhibited fluid secretion by Drosophila tubules, but only at concentrations well above the physiological range. We suggest that the amino acids probably function as compatible intracellular osmolytes that are necessary for sustained secretion at high rates by the Malpighian tubules.