The distribution of the transposable element Bari-1 in D. melanogaster and D. simulans was examined by Southern blot analysis and by in situ hybridization in a large number of strains of different geographical origins and established at different times. Bari-1 copies mostly homogeneous in size and physical map are detected in all strains tested. Both in D. melanogaster and in D. simulans a relatively high level of intraspecific insertion site polymorphism is detectable, suggesting that in both species Bari-1 is or has been actively transposing. The main difference between the two sibling species is the presence of a large tandem array of the element in a well-defined heterochromatic location of the D. melanogaster genome, whereas such a cluster is absent in D. simulans. The presence of Bari-1 elements with apparently identical physical maps in all D. melanogaster and D. simulans strains examined suggests that Bari-1 is not a recent introduction in the genome of the melanogaster complex. Structural analysis reveals unusual features that distinguish it from other inverted repeat transposons, whereas many aspects are similar to the widely distributed Tc1 element of C. elegans.