We used mitochondrial [cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (CO I), cytochrome b, and 16S] and nuclear [internal transcribed spacer (ITS) phylogenies of Skistodiaptomus copepods to test hypotheses of Pleistocene divergence and speciation within the genus. Mitochondrial (mt)DNA sequence divergences do not support hypotheses for Pleistocene speciation and instead suggest much more ancient speciation events in the genus. Skistodiaptomus oregonensis and Skistodiaptomus pygmaeus (i.e. two morphologically similar and parapatric species) exhibited uncorrected mtDNA sequence divergences exceeding 20%. Similarly, we identified three divergent clades of Skistodiaptomus pallidus that exhibited mtDNA sequence divergences exceeding 15%, suggesting that even intraspecific divergence within this morphospecies predates the Pleistocene. We found clear evidence of CO I pseudogenes in S. pygmaeus, but their presence did not lead to significant overestimates of sequence divergences for this gene. Substitution saturation and strong purifying selection have most likely led to underestimates of sequence divergences and divergence times among Skistodiaptomus. The widespread phenomenon of morphological stasis among genetically divergent copepod groups indicates that speciation often occurs with little or no morphological change. Instead, morphological evolution may occur idiosyncratically after speciation and create discordant patterns of morphological similarity, shared ancestry and divergence time. Cryptic species complexes are therefore common in copepods, and morphological species concepts underestimate their true species diversity. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 96, 150–165.