Sterility is a commonly observed phenotype in interspecific hybrids. Sterility may result from chromosomal or genic incompatibilities, and much progress has been made toward understanding the genetic basis of hybrid sterility in various taxa. The underlying mechanisms causing hybrid sterility, however, are less well known. The pachytene checkpoint is a meiotic surveillance system that many organisms use to detect aberrant meiotic products, in order to prevent the production of defective gametes. We suggest that activation of the pachytene checkpoint may be an important mechanism contributing to two types of hybrid sterility. First, the pachytene checkpoint may form the mechanistic basis of some gene-based hybrid sterility phenotypes. Second, the pachytene checkpoint may be an important mechanism that mediates chromosomal-based hybrid sterility phenotypes involving gametes with non-haploid (either non-reduced or aneuploid) chromosome sets. Studies in several species suggest that the strength of the pachytene checkpoint is sexually dimorphic, observations that warrant future investigation into whether such variation may contribute to differences in patterns of sterility between male and female interspecific hybrids. In addition, plants seem to lack the pachytene checkpoint, which correlates with increased production of unreduced gametes and a higher incidence of polyploid species in plants versus animals. Although the pachytene checkpoint occurs in many animals and in fungi, at least some of the genes that execute the pachytene checkpoint are different among organisms. This finding suggests that the penetrance of the pachytene checkpoint, and even its presence or absence can evolve rapidly. The surprising degree of evolutionary flexibility in this meiotic surveillance system may contribute to the observed variation in patterns of hybrid sterility and in rates of polyploidization.