DNA sequences of the first ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS1) were isolated from 10 ladybird beetle species (Coleoptera Coccinellidae) representing four subfamilies (Coccinellinae, Chilocorinae, Scymninae, and Coccidulinae). The spacers ranged in length from 791 to 2,572 bp, thereby including one of the longest ITS1s and exhibiting one of the most extreme cases of ITS1 size variation in eukaryotes recorded to date. The causes of length variation were therefore analyzed. Almost no putatively homologous sequence similarities were identified for the taxa included. The only exception was for the subfamily Coccinellinae, which yielded sequence similarities in six regions of approximately 550 nucleotide positions, primarily at the 5' and 3' ends of ITS1. The majority of differences in ITS1 length between taxa could be attributed to the presence of repetitive elements with comparatively long repeat units. Repetition arose several times independently and was confined to the middle of the spacer which, in contrast to the 5' and 3' ends, had not been inferred in previous studies to be subject to functional constraints. These elements were characterized by high rates of evolutionary change, most likely as a result of high substitution rates in combination with inefficient homogenization across repeats. The repeated origin and subsequent divergence of "long" repetitive elements should thus be assumed to be an important factor in the evolution of coccinellid ITS1.