Extensive sequence analysis of the developmental gene hunchback and its 5' and 3' regulatory regions in Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila virilis, Musca domestica, and Tribolium castaneum, using a variety of computer algorithms, reveals regions of high sequence simplicity probably generated by slippage-like mechanisms of turnover. No regions are entirely refractory to the action of slippage, although the density and composition of simple sequence motifs varies from region to region. Interestingly, the 5' and 3' flanking regions share short repetitive motifs despite their separation by the gene itself, and the motifs are different in composition from those in the exons and introns. Furthermore, there are high levels of conservation of motifs in equivalent orthologous regions. Detailed sequence analysis of the P2 promoter and DNA footprinting assays reveal that the number, orientation, sequence, spacing, and protein-binding affinities of the BICOID-binding sites varies between species and that the 'P2' promoter, the nanos response element in the 3' untranslated region, and several conserved boxes of sequence in the gene (e.g., the two zinc-finger regions) are surrounded by cryptically-simple-sequence DNA. We argue that high sequence turnover and genetic redundancy permit both the general maintenance of promoter functions through the establishment of coevolutionary (compensatory) changes in cis- and trans-acting genetic elements and, at the same time, the possibility of subtle changes in the regulation of hunchback in the different species.