The activity of transposable elements can be induced by environmental and population factors and in particular by stresses in various organisms. A consequence of the increase in transposable element mobility is the creation of new genetic variability that can be useful in the face of stressful conditions. In this review, results supporting this hypothesis are presented and discussed. The main question is how stress induces the activity of transposable elements. We discuss hypotheses based upon the existence of promoters or fixation sites of transcription activators in the untranslated regions of transposable elements, similar to those found in regulatory regions of host defence genes.