A data matrix is presented of 210 morphological characters (mostly osteological, some external) for 20 extant taxa of the ten Recent families of tetraodontiform fishes and 36 fossil tetraodontiforms. The oldest of these are from the Upper Cretaceous (95 Mya); most are from the Lower to Middle Eocene (50–58 Mya). There are two outgroup taxa (a zeiform and a caproid). A cladistic analysis of this matrix for only the extant taxa produced two equally parsimonious trees that call into question the monophyly of some of the previously accepted major higher-level tetraodontiform clades. Inclusion in the analysis of the large number of available fossil taxa helps to resolve relationships between family level clades. The new phylogenetic hypothesis, together with stratigraphic and biogeographical data, is used to discuss scenarios of the origin and evolution of the major clades of the order. © 2003 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2003, 139, 565−617.