Despite considerable skepticism, researchers have found that the patterns of muscle activation that control feeding behaviors of lower vertebrates have been surprisingly conserved during evolution. This tendency for conservation among taxa appears in the face of marked flexibility of motor patterns within individuals. One interpretation of these apparently conflicting trends is that the most effective motor pattern for any given feeding situation is the same across substantial phylogenetic distances and morphological differences. The novel evolutionary insight provided by this research is that historical changes to motor patterns are a relatively infrequent source of trophic innovation. The spectacular diversity of feeding abilities and feeding ecology in lower vertebrates is based mostly on axes of variation, and on the innovations in the organization of muscles and the skeletal linkage systems that they drive.