Background The Pomatiopsidae are reported from northern India into southern China and Southeast Asia, with two sub-families, the Pomatiopsinae (which include freshwater, amphibious, terrestrial and marine species) and the freshwater Triculinae. Both include species acting as intermediate host for species of the blood-fluke Schistosoma which cause a public health problem in East Asia. Also, with around 120 species, triculine biodiversity exceeds that of any other endemic freshwater molluscan fauna. Nevertheless, the origins of the Pomatiopsidae, the factors driving such a diverse radiation and aspects of their co-evolution with Schistosoma are not fully understood. Many taxonomic questions remain; there are problems identifying medically relevant species. The predicted range is mostly unsurveyed and the true biodiversity of the family is underestimated. Consequently, the aim of the study was to collect DNA-sequence data for as many pomatiopsid taxa as possible, as a first step in providing a resource for identification of epidemiologically significant species (by non-malacologists), for use in resolving taxonomic confusion and for testing phylogeographical hypotheses. Results The evolutionary radiation of the Triculinae was shown to have been rapid and mostly post late Miocene. Molecular dating indicated that the radiation of these snails was driven first by the uplift of the Himalaya and onset of a monsoon system, and then by late-Pliocene global warming. The status of Erhaia as Anmicolidae is supported. The genera Tricula and Neotricula are shown to be non-monophyletic and the tribe Jullieniini may be polyphyletic (based on convergent characters). Triculinae from northern Vietnam could be derived from Gammatricula of Fujian/Yunnan, China. Conclusions The molecular dates and phylogenetic estimates in this study are consistent with an Australasian origin for the Pomatiopsidae and an East to West radiation via Oligocene Borneo-Philippines island hopping to Japan and then China (Triculinae arising mid-Miocene in Southeast China), and less so with a triculine origin in Tibet. The lack of monophyly in the medically important genera and indications of taxonomic inaccuracies, call for further work to identify epidemiologically significant taxa (e.g., Halewisia may be potential hosts for Schistosoma mekongi) and highlight the need for surveys to determine the true biodiversity of the Triculinae.