Neuropeptides are a diverse class of neuronal signalling molecules that regulate physiological processes and behaviour in animals. However, determining the relationships and evolutionary origins of the heterogeneous assemblage of neuropeptides identified in a range of phyla has presented a huge challenge for comparative physiologists. Here, we review revolutionary insights into the evolution of neuropeptide signalling that have been obtained recently through comparative analysis of genome/transcriptome sequence data and by 'deorphanisation' of neuropeptide receptors. The evolutionary origins of at least 30 neuropeptide signalling systems have been traced to the common ancestor of protostomes and deuterostomes. Furthermore, two rounds of genome duplication gave rise to an expanded repertoire of neuropeptide signalling systems in the vertebrate lineage, enabling neofunctionalisation and/or subfunctionalisation, but with lineage-specific gene loss and/or additional gene or genome duplications generating complex patterns in the phylogenetic distribution of paralogous neuropeptide signalling systems. We are entering a new era in neuropeptide research where it has become feasible to compare the physiological roles of orthologous and paralogous neuropeptides in a wide range of phyla. Moreover, the ambitious mission to reconstruct the evolution of neuropeptide function in the animal kingdom now represents a tangible challenge for the future.