Interactions between neurons and glial cells are crucial for nervous system development and function in all complex organisms, and many functional, morphological and molecular features of glia are well conserved among species. Here we review studies of the longitudinal glia (LG) in the Drosophila CNS. The LG envelop the neuropil in a membrane sheath, and have features resembling both oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Because of their unique lineage, morphology and molecular features, the LG provide an excellent model to study the genetic mechanisms underlying glial subtype differentiation and diversity, glial morphogenesis and neuron–glial interactions during development. In addition, they are proving useful in understanding how glial cells maintain ion and neurotransmitter homeostasis and protect neurons from environmental insult.