We assessed the rate of in vitro polymerase errors at polythymidine [poly(T)] tracts in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of a heteroderid nematode (Heterodera cajani). The mtDNA of these nematodes contain unusually high numbers of poly(T) tracts, and have previously been suggested to contain biological poly(T) length variation. However, using a cloned molecule, we observed that poly(T) variation was generated in vitro at regions containing more than six consecutive Ts. This artefactual error rate was estimated at 7.3 × 10 -5 indels/poly(T) tract >6 Ts/cycle. This rate was then compared to the rate of poly(T) variation detected after the amplification of a biological sample, in order to estimate the 'biological + artefactual' rate of poly(T) variation. There was no significant difference between the artefactual and the artefactual + biological rates, suggesting that the majority of poly(T) variation in the biological sample was artefactual. We then examined the generation of poly(T) variation in a range of templates with tracts up to 16 Ts long, utilizing a range of Heteroderidae species. We observed that T deletions occurred five times more frequently than insertions, and a trend towards increasing error rates with increasing poly(T) tract length. These findings have significant implications for studies involving genomes with many homopolymer tracts. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.