Microsatellites are short tandemly repeated DNA sequence motifs that are highly variable in most organisms. In contrast to mammals, long microsatellites (>15 repeats) are extremely rare in the Drosophila melanogaster genome. To investigate this paucity of long microsatellites in Drosophila, we studied 19 loci with exceptionally long microsatellite alleles. Inter- and intraspecific analysis showed that long microsatellite alleles arose in D. melanogaster only very recently. This lack of old alleles with many repeats indicated that long microsatellite alleles have short persistence times. The size distribution of microsatellite mutations in mutation-accumulation lines suggests that long alleles have a mutation bias toward a reduction in the number of repeat units. This bias causes the short persistence times of long microsatellite alleles. We propose that species-specific, size-dependent mutation spectra of microsatellite alleles may provide a general mechanism to account for the observed differences in microsatellite length between species.