The availability of high-throughput genomic sequencing has allowed us to construct a more robust characterization of retinoic acid response elements than was possible in the past. We located human, mouse, and rat homologs for each of 51 well-documented, conserved retinoic acid response elements. Mathematical and statistical analyses of these 153 sites, 78 of which are new, shows that 92% of response elements have direct-repeat symmetry, but that only 76% exhibit canonical spacing attributes. While the familiar '(a/g)g(g/t)tca' hexamer motif is upheld, the more relaxed sequence, '(a/g)g(g/t)(g/t)(g/c)a', represents a 10% consensus. Sites are as likely to be on the coding strand as on the non-coding strand, and 86% of them are in upstream locations. From a statistical point of view, DR1 elements are fundamentally different from DR2 and DR5 elements, but this is only evident in the 5' hexamer. While there is considerable variation in core positions, and while no nucleotide can be considered forbidden at any position, variation among species at a fixed locus appears surprisingly constrained once a functional site has been attained.