Heat-shock genes have a well-studied control mechanism for their expression that is mediated through cis-regulatory motifs known as heat-shock elements (HSEs). The evolution of important features of this control mechanism has not been investigated in detail, however. Here we exploit the genome sequencing of multiple Drosophila species, combined with a wealth of available information on the structure and function of HSEs in D. melanogaster, to undertake this investigation. We find that in single-copy heat shock genes, entire HSEs have evolved or disappeared 14 times, and the phylogenetic approach bounds the timing and direction of these evolutionary events in relation to speciation. In contrast, in the multi-copy gene Hsp70, the number of HSEs is nearly constant across species. HSEs evolve in size, position, and sequence within heat-shock promoters. In turn, functional significance of certain features is implicated by preservation despite this evolutionary change; these features include tail-to-tail arrangements of HSEs, gapped HSEs, and the presence or absence of entire HSEs. The variation among Drosophila species indicates that the cis-regulatory encoding of responsiveness to heat and other stresses is diverse. The broad dimensions of variation uncovered are particularly important as they suggest a substantial challenge for functional studies.