1. The effect of phentolamine on the response properties of insect mechanoreceptors and on the conduction in their axons was examined using electrophysiological techniques. 2. Phentolamine blocked conduction of action potentials along axons, an effect which exhibited 3 characteristics typical of local anesthetics: the effect was frequency-dependent, reversible and varied for nerves with different diameters. 3. The concentration of phentolamine required to block axonal conduction (1-2 x 10(-3) M) was significantly higher than that required to abolish the response of receptors to mechanical stimulation (3-5 x 10(-4) M). 4. All mechanoreceptors that were examined in Locusta migratoria and Periplaneta americana were inactivated by phentolamine (Table 1). The type I receptors (chordotonal, campaniform and hair sensilla) were inactivated within 5-15 min following phentolamine application. The only type II receptor examined (forewing stretch-receptor) underwent a phase of repetitive discharge before being inactivated. 5. Tolazoline and metoclopramide inactivated, like phentolamine, mechanoreceptors at lower concentrations than necessary to block axonal conduction. However, yohimbine and chlorpromazine inactivated mechanoreceptors and blocked axonal conduction at similar concentrations. 6. These findings suggest that phentolamine affects sense-organ specific ionic processes that are more sensitive to the drug than the ionic processes along the axons.