Variation in quantitative characters underlies much adaptive evolution and provides the basis for selective improvement of domestic species, yet the genetic nature of quantitative variation is poorly understood. Many loci affecting quantitative traits have been identified by the segregation of mutant alleles with major qualitative effects. These alleles may represent an extreme of a continuum of allelic effects, and most quantitative variation could result from the segregation of alleles with subtle effects at loci identified by alleles with major effects. The achaete-scute complex in Drosophila melanogaster plays a central part in bristle development and has been characterized at the molecular level. The hypothesis that naturally occurring quantitative variation in bristle number could be associated with wild-type alleles of achaete-scute was tested by correlating phenotypic variation in bristle number with molecular variation in restriction maps in this region among chromosomes extracted from natural populations. DNA insertion variation in the achaete-scute region was found to be strongly associated with variation in bristle number.