Most behaviours involve complex morphological systems and vice versa morphological systems are used by the organism in many different ways. During evolution and ontogeny changes in kinematics and function of skeletal and muscular systems must be coordinated with changes in their neural control. Neuromotor patterns are sometimes believed to be conserved in evolution, leading to diversification at the level of musculoskeletal design. Vertebrate motor patterns used in feeding are reviewed to examine this hypothesis. Stereotyped behaviour is not necessarily the result of phylogenetic constraints but may also result from the functional demands imposed by the mechanics of the jaw apparatus and the nature of the task performed. Sensory feedback and descending control not only contribute to 'online' control of movement but also shape the development of motor patterns and learning behaviour and indicate a potentially large flexibility. The neural and sensory apparatus that produces this flexibility will be subject to evolutionary modification. In the absence of a demand for flexibility motor patterns may become stereotyped in some species, while they are very flexible in others. To the extent that morphological systems perform independent movements during different behaviours, separate basic motor patterns may be required, which may be coordinated in different ways.