Sequence data from the V4 and V7-V9 variable regions of the 18S small subunit ribosomal DNA (ssrDNA) gene were used to examine relationships among 26 tetraphyllidean and two lecanicephalidean taxa. Newly collected specimens of 21 of the tetraphyllidean species were used to generate ssrDNA sequences that were combined with sequences previously available, including those of two diphyllidean taxa used for outgroup rooting. The sequences were aligned by eye according to secondary structural motifs of the conserved core of the molecule. Of the 1520 sites in the alignment, 874 (58%) were excluded from analysis due to alignment gaps and lack of positional homology as inferred by manual inspection. Genetic variability of the ssrDNA gene regions compared was greater than would be expected, based on the present taxonomy of the ingroup species, and the genetic divergences among tetraphyllidean 'families' and genera were comparable to that among tapeworm orders. Phylogenetic hypotheses were generated by the methods of maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood (GTR + I + Gamma nucleotide substitution model). Four most parsimonious trees resulted from analysis by maximum parsimony. Strict consensus of the four trees supported the monophyly of the Tetraphyllidea, with the lecanicephalidean taxa forming a sister lineage. Among the tetraphyllidean taxa included in the analysis were three major clades: a basal clade including species of the phyllobothriid genera Anthocephalum, Echeneibothrium, Rhinebothrium, Rhodobothrium and Spongiobothrium; a clade uniting the phyllobothriids of the genus Duplicibothrium with the dioecotaeniid genus Dioecotaenia; and a larger sister clade to the Duplicibothrium + Dioecotaenia clade that included the phyllobothriid genera Caulohothrium, Ceratobothrium, Clistobothrium, Paraoryigmatobothrium and Prosobothrium, the litobothriid genus Litobothrium and the onchobothriid genera Acanthobothrium, Calliobothrium, Phoreiobothrium and Platybothrium. Maximum likelihood analysis resulted in a topology that was congruent where nodes were strongly supported by parsimony analysis, but differed in the relative positions of the well-supported clades. In addition,maximum likelihood analysis grouped the lecanicephalidean taxa among the tetraphyllidean taxa, indicating paraphyly of the order Tetraphyllidea as currently defined. Relationships suggested by both methods of analysis reflected common host associations of the taxa better than their current classification, suggesting that coevolution has had a significant role in the evolution of the group.