The modern and native distributions of wax scales are documented and an area cladogram including seventy species is presented. Wax scales are distributed worldwide, but most species are native to either South America or Africa. Their native distribution pattern is discussed in relation to their host-plant specificity and to the dispersal and vicariance theories of biogeography. The vicariance theory is preferred, because the pattern can be explained satisfactorily by plate tectonics but not by dispersal from a centre of origin. The wax scale group probably originated in the combined South American–African continent at least 97 million yr ago.