Tadpole shrimp (Crustacea, Notostraca) are iconic inhabitants of temporary aquatic habitats worldwide. Often cited as prime examples of evolutionary stasis, surviving representatives closely resemble fossils older than 200 mya, suggestive of an ancient origin. Despite significant interest in the group as 'living fossils' the taxonomy of surviving taxa is still under debate and both the phylogenetic relationships among different lineages and the timing of diversification remain unclear. We constructed a molecular phylogeny of the Notostraca using model based phylogenetic methods. Our analyses supported the monophyly of the two genera Triops and Lepidurus, although for Triops support was weak. Results also revealed high levels of cryptic diversity as well as a peculiar biogeographic link between Australia and North America presumably mediated by historic long distance dispersal. We concluded that, although some present day tadpole shrimp species closely resemble fossil specimens as old as 250 mya, no molecular support was found for an ancient (pre) Mesozoic radiation. Instead, living tadpole shrimp are most likely the result of a relatively recent radiation in the Cenozoic era and close resemblances between recent and fossil taxa are probably the result of the highly conserved general morphology in this group and of homoplasy.