The beet armyworm, Spodoptera exigua (Hübner), is a serious pest worldwide that causes significant losses in crops. Unfortunately, genetic resources for the beet armyworm is extremely scarce. To improve these resources we sequenced the transcriptome of S. exigua representing all stages including eggs, 1 st to 5 th instar larvae, pupae, male and female adults using the Illumina Solexa platform. We assembled the transcriptome with Trinity that yielded 31,414 contigs. Of these contigs, 18,592 were annotated as protein coding genes by Blast searches against the NCBI nr database. It has been shown that knockdown of important insect genes by dsRNAs or siRNAs is a feasible mechanism to control insect pests. The first key step towards developing an efficient RNAi-mediated pest control technique is to find suitable target genes. To screen for effective target genes in the beet armyworm, we selected nine candidate genes. The sequences of these genes were amplified using the RACE strategy. Then, siRNAs were designed and chemically synthesized. We injected 2 µl siRNA (2 µg/µl) into the 4 th instar larvae to knock down the respective target genes. The mRNA abundance of target genes decreased to different levels (∼20–94.3%) after injection of siRNAs. Knockdown of eight genes including chitinase7, PGCP, chitinase1, ATPase, tubulin1, arf2, tubulin2 and arf1 caused a significantly high level of mortality compared to the negative control (P<0.05). About 80% of the surviving insects in the siRNA-treated group of five genes (PGCP, chitinase1, tubulin1, tubulin2 and helicase) showed retarded development. In chitinase1-siRNA and chitinase7-siRNA administered groups, 12.5% survivors exhibited “half-ecdysis”. In arf1-siRNA and arf2-siRNA groups, the body color of 15% became black 48 h after injections. In summary, the transcriptome could be a valuable genetic resource for identification of genes in S. exigua and this study provided putative targets for RNAi pest control.