In Drosophila, anteroposterior (AP) axis formation depends on a gradient of the maternal transcription factor Bicoid. But bicoid is unique to higher dipterans, so what patterns the AP axis in other insects? In the short-germ beetle Tribolium castaneum, one hypothesis is that the head gap gene orthodenticle (Tc-otd) substitutes for bicoid. However, on p. 1853, Michael Schoppmeier and colleagues unexpectedly report that the role of Tc-otd in AP blastoderm patterning depends on its impact on dorsoventral (DV) patterning. RNAi depletion of Tc-otd produces lateralised embryos, they report, by reducing the expression of short gastrulation (Tc-sog), which normally establishes the DV Decapentaplegic gradient. In addition, an anterior shift of the jaw segment primordia in Tc-otd-depleted embryos is largely due to reduced expression of Tc-zen-1, another DV patterning gene. Neither Tc-sog nor Tc-zen-1 is likely to receive Tc-Otd gradient-mediated positional information, note the researchers. Instead, the blastoderm-patterning function of Tc-Otd probably depends on its initially ubiquitous maternal expression. Its early patterning role, therefore, has little in common with Bicoid.