Abstract Ciliates provide a powerful system to analyze the evolution of duplicated α-tubulin genes in the context of single-celled organisms. Genealogical analyses of ciliate α-tubulin sequences reveal five apparently recent gene duplications. Comparisons of paralogs in different ciliates implicate differing patterns of substitutions (e.g., ratios of replacement/synonymous nucleotides and radical/conservative amino acids) following duplication. Most substitutions between paralogs in Euplotes crassus, Halteria grandinella and Paramecium tetraurelia are synonymous. In contrast, α-tubulin paralogs within Stylonychia lemnae and Chilodonella uncinata are evolving at significantly different rates and have higher ratios of both replacement substitutions to synonymous substitutions and radical amino acid changes to conservative amino acid changes. Moreover, the amino acid substitutions in C. uncinata and S. lemnae paralogs are limited to short stretches that correspond to functionally important regions of the α-tubulin protein. The topology of ciliate α-tubulin genealogies are inconsistent with taxonomy based on morphology and other molecular markers, which may be due to taxonomic sampling, gene conversion, unequal rates of evolution, or asymmetric patterns of gene duplication and loss.