Subtelomeres are extraordinarily dynamic and variable regions near the ends of chromosomes. They are defined by their unusual structure: patchworks of blocks that are duplicated near the ends of multiple chromosomes. Duplications among subtelomeres have spawned small gene families, making inter-individual variation in subtelomeres a potential source of phenotypic diversity. The ectopic recombination that occurs between subtelomeres might also have a role in reconstituting telomeres in the absence of telomerase. However, the propensity for subtelomeres to interchange is a double-edged sword, as extensive subtelomeric homology can mediate deleterious rearrangements of the ends of chromosomes to cause human disease.