Phylogenetic trees in insects are frequently dated by applying a "standard" mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) clock estimated at 2.3% My(-1), but despite its wide use reliable calibration points have been lacking. Here, we used a well-established biogeographic barrier, the mid-Aegean trench separating the western and eastern Aegean archipelago, to estimate substitution rates in tenebrionid beetles. Cytochrome oxidase I (cox1) for six codistributed genera across 28 islands (444 individuals) on both sides of the mid-Aegean trench revealed 60 independently coalescing entities delimited with a mixed Yule-coalescent model. One representative per entity was used for phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial (cox1, 16S rRNA) and nuclear (Mp20, 28S rRNA) genes. Six nodes marked geographically congruent east-west splits whose separation was largely contemporaneous and likely to reflect the formation of the mid-Aegean trench at 9-12 Mya. Based on these "known" dates, a divergence rate of 3.54% My(-1) for the cox1 gene (2.69% when combined with the 16S rRNA gene) was obtained under the preferred partitioning scheme and substitution model selected using Bayes factors. An extensive survey suggests that discrepancies in mtDNA substitution rates in the entomological literature can be attributed to the use of different substitution models, the use of different mitochondrial gene regions, mixing of intraspecific with interspecific data, and not accounting for variance in coalescent times or postseparation gene flow. Different treatments of these factors in the literature confound estimates of mtDNA substitution rates in opposing directions and obscure lineage-specific differences in rates when comparing data from various sources.