Cooption and modularity are informative concepts in evolutionary developmental biology. Genes function within complex networks that act as modules in development. These modules can then be coopted in various functional and evolutionary contexts. Hormonal signaling, the main focus of this review, has a modular character. By regulating the activities of genes, proteins and other cellular molecules, a hormonal signal can have major effects on physiological and ontogenetic processes within and across tissues over a wide spatial and temporal scale. Because of this property, we argue that hormones are frequently involved in the coordination of life history transitions (LHTs) and their evolution (LHE). Finally, we promote the usefulness of a comparative, non-model system approach towards understanding how hormones function and guide development and evolution, highlighting thyroid hormone function in echinoids as an example. BioEssays 27:64–75, 2005. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.