Diversifications within a biota are due to several factors. Although some of these are untestable with current analytical methods, hierarchical congruence obtained with different cladistic methods and based on independent taxa are undoubtedly important. In the recent past, most hypotheses of historical biogeography (e.g. refugial, riverine, disturbance, vicariance) were tested on the Amazonian biota, selecting a number of diverse organisms such as plants, anurans, lizards, butterflies, birds and monkeys. In this study we used parsimony analysis of endemicity to infer historical relationships among 16 interfluvial areas in the Amazonian lowlands based on raw distributions of 114 Papilioninae (Lepidoptera). The analysis yielded two most parsimonious trees of area relationships. One tree was characterized by two main clusters of areas which showed a separation of Guyanan + south-east Amazonian interfluvial areas from western Amazonian interfluvial areas. The second tree showed the Guyanan interfluvial areas basal to a cluster which included all the other interfluvial areas. This latter cluster was subdivided into two main groups of areas separating the south-east Amazonian and the western Amazonian interfluvial areas. This result is discussed in the light of previous hypotheses obtained with the same method using some vertebrate taxa in the Amazonian lowlands. Likewise, comparisons with other hypotheses on lineages of birds, mammals and butterflies obtained applying cladistic biogeographical methods are made. The two alternative vicariant patterns presented for papilionid butterflies are strictly congruent with those for birds. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 82, 345–357.