Transposable elements are potent agents of genomic change during evolution, but require access to chromatin for insertion-and not all genes provide equivalent access. To test whether the regulatory features of heat-shock genes render their proximal promoters especially susceptible to the insertion of transposable elements in nature, we conducted an unbiased screen of the proximal promoters of 18 heat-shock genes in 48 natural populations of Drosophila. More than 200 distinctive transposable elements had inserted into these promoters; greater than 96% are P elements. By contrast, few or no P element insertions segregate in natural populations in a "negative control" set of proximal promoters lacking the distinctive regulatory features of heat-shock genes. P element transpositions into these same genes during laboratory mutagenesis recapitulate these findings. The natural P element insertions cluster in specific sites in the promoters, with up to eight populations exhibiting P element insertions at the same position; laboratory insertions are into similar sites. By contrast, a "positive control" set of promoters resembling heat-shock promoters in regulatory features harbors few P element insertions in nature, but many insertions after experimental transposition in the laboratory. We conclude that the distinctive regulatory features that typify heat-shock genes (in Drosophila) are especially prone to mutagenesis via P elements in nature. Thus in nature, P elements create significant and distinctive variation in heat-shock genes, upon which evolutionary processes may act.