The genus Macroplea Samouelle, 1819 is a group of highly specialized aquatic leaf beetles occurring in the Palaearctic. Since the members of this genus are morphologically very similar, we addressed the question of species identification and delimitation by analysing the second half of the mitochondrial gene coding for the cytochrome oxidase I (COI) subunit. Species limits are inferred from the multimodal frequency distribution of genetic distances between specimens: low genetic distances within a species are clearly set apart from distances between species. The species status of the hitherto controversial species M. japana (Jacoby, 1885) is confirmed. The pattern of nucleotide and amino acid substitutions is discussed in the light of functional domains of the COI molecule. Although the data are preliminary, the results provide new data on the distribution of the species. Together with the phylogenetic analysis they allow for a discussion of the phylogeography of the genus.