Drosophila antonietae belongs to the Drosophila buzzatii cluster, a cactophilic group of species naturally endemic to South America. Morphological and genetic analyses indicate that its populations are the most homogenous in the cluster and that the diversity observed is mainly a result of variation within populations. Seven polymorphic microsatellite loci were described for this species and used in the present study to investigate the genetic diversity of natural populations of D. antonietae by both length and sequence variation. The study aimed to understand how homoplasy and null alleles affect inferences about the population history of this species and to obtain an accurate interpretation of population inferences where these loci could be applied. The results provide useful information on the interpretation of genetic data derived from the microsatellite loci described for D. antonietae and on evolutionary aspects of cactophilic Drosophila. Importantly, the results indicate that size homoplasy and null alleles do not represent significant problems for the population genetics analyses because the large amount of variability at microsatellite loci compensate the low frequency of these problems in the populations. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 100, 573–584.