Abstract Metamorphosis in holometabolous insects is mainly based on the destruction of larval tissues. Intensive research in Drosophila melanogaster, a model of holometabolan metamorphosis, has shown that the steroid hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E) signals cell death of larval tissues during metamorphosis. However, D. melanogaster shows a highly derived type of development and the mechanisms regulating apoptosis may not be representative in the insect class context. Unfortunately, no functional studies have been carried out to address whether the mechanisms controlling cell death are present in more basal hemimetabolous species. To address this, we have analyzed the apoptosis of the prothoracic gland of the cockroach Blattella germanica, which undergoes stage-specific degeneration just after the imaginal molt. Here, we first show that B. germanica has two inhibitor of apoptosis (IAP) proteins and that one of them, BgIAP1, is continuously required to ensure tissue viability, including that of the prothoracic gland, during nymphal development. Moreover, we demonstrate that the degeneration of the prothoracic gland is controlled by a complex 20E-triggered hierarchy of nuclear receptors converging in the strong activation of the death-inducer Fushi tarazu-factor 1 (BgFTZ-F1) during the nymphal–adult transition. Finally, we have also shown that prothoracic gland degeneration is effectively prevented by the presence of juvenile hormone (JH). Given the relevance of cell death in the metamorphic process, the characterization of the molecular mechanisms regulating apoptosis in hemimetabolous insects would allow to help elucidate how metamorphosis has evolved from less to more derived insect species.