The evolutionary patterns of divergence of seven euhirudinean families were investigated by cladistic analysis of 33 euhirudinean species. Oligochaetes, Acanthobdella peledina, and branchiobdellidans were included as outgroup taxa. Cladistic analysis employed 1.8 kb of nuclear 18S ribosomal DNA and 651 bp of mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I in addition to morphological data. The use of two molecular data sets, one nuclear gene and one mitochondrial gene, as well as morphological data combined historical information evolving under a variety of different constraints and therefore was less susceptible to the biases that could confound the use of only one type of data. Results suggest that the nuclear 18S rDNA gene yields a meaningful historical signal for determining higher level relationships. The more rapidly evolving CO-I gene was informative for recent or local areas of the evolutionary hypothesis, such as within-family relationships. Analyses combining all data from the three character sets yielded one most-parsimonious tree. Most of the higher taxa in recent leech systematics were well corroborated in the resulting topology. However, these results suggested paraphyly of the order Rhynchobdellida, which contradicts the presence of a proboscis as a synapomorphy. The medicinal leech family Hirudinidae was polyphyletic because Haemadipsidae and Haemopidae each have a hirudinid ancestor. In addition, all but one of the genera within the family Erpobdellidae must be either abandoned or renamed. Unusual findings included compelling evidence of historical plasticity in bloodfeeding behavior, having been lost at least four times in the course of euhirudinean evolution. Biogeographic patterns supported a New World origin for Arhynchobdellida. Copyright 1999 Academic Press.