Plant retrotransposons are largely inactive during normal development, but may be activated by stresses. Both copia-like and gypsy-like retrotransposons of rice were activated by introgression of DNA from the wild species Zizania latifolia Griseb. The copy number increase was associated with cytosine methylation changes of the elements. Activity of the elements was ephemeral, as evidenced by nearly identical genomic Southern hybridization patterns among randomly chosen individuals both within and between generations for a given line, and the absence of transcripts based on Northern analysis. DNA hypermethylation, internal sequence deletion, and possibly other mechanisms are likely responsible for the rapid element repression. Implications of the retroelement dynamics on plant genome evolution are discussed.