A study on the most exhaustive taxonomic sample of amniotes (75 extant and nine extinct taxa) of any quantitative work on this topic published so far demonstrates a strong relationship between lifestyle (aquatic, amphibious or terrestrial) and humeral microanatomy. We suggest that corrections for multiple testing be used to check for statistical artefacts in the context of a phylogenetic independent contrast analysis, and we use the false discovery rate procedure for this. Linear discriminant models segregate the various lifestyles with excellent success rate of up to 98.5%. Lifestyle was thus inferred for six extinct taxa of uncertain habitat. The results obtained suggest that Captorhinus, Claudiosaurus, and Placodus were amphibious, whereas Neusticosaurus and Mesosaurus were aquatic. Lystrosaurus may have been more aquatic than previously suggested, although the results of our inference models have to be integrated with other sources of data, which suggest that it may have been amphibious, rather than aquatic (as a literal interpretation of the models would suggest). Finally, we propose an alternative method of palaeobiological inference for hypothetical ancestors. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 100, 384–406.