The engulfment of apoptotic cells is essential for tissue homeostasis and recovering from damage. Engulfment is mediated by receptors that recognize ligands exposed on apoptotic cells such as phosphatidylserine (PS). In this study, we convert Drosophila melanogaster S2 cells into proficient phagocytes by transfecting the Draper engulfment receptor and replacing apoptotic cells with PS-coated beads. Similar to the T cell receptor (TCR), PS-ligated Draper forms dynamic microclusters that recruit cytosolic effector proteins and exclude a bulky transmembrane phosphatase, consistent with a kinetic segregation-based triggering mechanism. However, in contrast with the TCR, localized signaling at Draper microclusters results in time-dependent depletion of actin filaments, which facilitates engulfment. The Draper–PS extracellular module can be replaced with FRB and FKBP, respectively, resulting in a rapamycin-inducible engulfment system that can be programmed toward defined targets. Collectively, our results reveal mechanistic similarities and differences between the receptors involved in apoptotic corpse clearance and mammalian immunity and demonstrate that engulfment can be reprogrammed toward nonnative targets.