It is generally accepted that the wide variation in genome size observed among eukaryotic species is more closely correlated with the amount of repetitive DNA than with the number of coding genes. Major types of repetitive DNA include transposable elements, satellite DNAs, simple sequences and tandem repeats, but reliable estimates of the relative contributions of these various types to total genome size have been hard to obtain. With the advent of genome sequencing, such information is starting to become available, but no firm conclusions can yet be made from the limited data currently available. Here, the ways in which transposable elements contribute both directly and indirectly to genome size variation are explored. Limited evidence is provided to support the existence of an approximately linear relationship between total transposable element DNA and genome size. Copy numbers per family are low and globally constrained in small genomes, but vary widely in large genomes. Thus, the partial release of transposable element copy number constraints appears to be a major characteristic of large genomes.