Insect mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) genes are used as a model to examine the within-gene heterogeneity of evolutionary rate and Its implications for evolutionary analyses. The complete sequence (1537 bp) of the meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus) COI gene has been determined, and compared with eight other Insect COI genes at both the DNA and amino acid sequence levels. This reveals that different regions evolve at different rates, and the patterns of sequence variability seems associated with functional constraints on the protein. The COOH-terminal was found to be significantly more variable than Internal loops (I), external loops (E), transmembrane helices (M) or the NH2 terminal. The central region of COI (M5-M8) has lower levels of sequence variability, which Is related to several Important functional domains In this region. Highly conserved primers which amplify regions of different variabilities have been designed to cover the entire insect COI gene. These primers have been shown to amplify COI in a wide range of species, representing all the major insect groups; some even In an arachnid. Implications of the observed evolutionary pattern for phylogenetic analysis are discussed, with particular regard to the choice of regions of suitable variability for specific phylogenetic projects.