The insertion site polymorphism of the copia, mdg1, mdg3, gypsy, and P transposable elements was analysed by in situ hybridization to the polytene chromosomes in genomes of males from a natural population of Drosophila melanogaster. Parameters of various theoretical models of the population biology of transposable elements were estimated from our data, and different hypotheses explaining TE copy number containment were tested. The copia, mdg1 and gypsy elements show evidence for a deficiency of insertions on the X chromosomes, a result consistent with selection against the mutational effects of insertions. On the contrary, mdg3 and P copy numbers fit a neutral model with a balance between regulated transposition and excisions. There is no strong evidence of a systematic accumulation of elements in the distal and proximal regions of the chromosomes where crossing over and ectopic exchanges are reduced. For all chromosome arms but 3L, however, the TE site density increases from the proximal to the distal parts of the chromosomes (the centromeric regions were excluded in this analysis) with sometimes a sharp decrease in density at the extreme tip, following in part the exchange coefficient. The way the copy number of TEs is contained in genomes depends thus on the element considered, and on various forces acting simultaneously, indicating that models of TE dynamics should include details of each element.