Forty-six strains derived from American and French natural populations of Drosophila melanogaster were tested for the presence and activity of hobo elements by using Southern blotting and a gonadal dysgenesis assay. The oldest available strains exhibited weak detectable hybridization to the hobo-element probe and revealed neither hobo-activity potential nor hobo-repression potential. In contrast, all recently collected strains harbored hobo sequences and revealed a strong hobo-repression potential but no strong hobo-activity potential. On the basis of restriction-enzyme analysis, old strains appear to have numerous fragments hybridizable to hobo sequences, several probably conserved at the same locations in the genome of the tested strain and others dispersed. In recently isolated strains, and unlike the situation in the published sequence of the cloned hobo108 element, a PvuII site is present in the great majority of full-sized hobo elements and their deletion derivatives. When the genetic and molecular characteristics are considered together, the available evidence is consistent with the hypothesis of a worldwide hobo-element invasion of D. melanogaster during the past 50 years. Comparison of data from the I-R and P-M systems suggests that the putative invasion followed the introduction of the I element but preceded that of the P element. This hypothesis poses the problem of the plausibility of three virtually simultaneous element invasions in this species. Such a possibility might be due to a modification of the genetic structure of American populations of D. melanogaster during the first part of the 20th century.