Stingless bees (Meliponini) are one of only two highly eusocial bees, the other being the well studied honey bee (Apini). Unlike Apini, with only 11 species in the single genus Apis, stingless bees are a large and diverse taxon comprising some 60 genera, many of which are poorly known. This is the first attempt to infer a phylogeny of the group that includes the world fauna and extensive molecular data. Understanding the evolutionary relationships of these bees would provide a basis for behavioural studies within an evolutionary framework, illuminating the origins of complex social behaviour, such as the employment of dance and sound to communicate the location of food or shelter. In addition to a global phylogeny, we also provide estimates of divergence times and ancestral biogeograhic distributions of the major groups. Bayesian and maximum likelihood analyses strongly support a principal division of Meliponini into Old and New World groups, with the Afrotropical+Indo-Malay/Australian clades comprising the sister group to the large Neotropical clade. The meliponine crown clade is inferred to be of late Gondwanan origin (approximately 80 Mya), undergoing radiations in the Afrotropical and Indo-Malayan/Australasian regions, approximately 50–60 Mya. In the New World, major diversifications occurred approximately 30–40 Mya. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 99, 206–232.