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Abstract Aim This study aims to initially explore the mode of speciation in Indo-West Pacific Conus. Location The Indo-West Pacific island arc, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Methods Relating evolutionary divergence in a molecular phylogeny [T.F. Duda & S.R. Palumbi (1999) Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 96, 10272] using node height with modern range extents as a possible measure of allopatric or sympatric speciation following that of T.G. Barraclough, A.P. Vogler & P.H. Harvey [(1999) Evolution of Biological Diversity. Oxford University Press, Oxford] models of sympatric and allopatric speciation. Results The analysis seems to indicate that the relationship of sympatry with node height is not informative. Species that have diverged quite recently show 100% sympatry with the sister species. A clearer signal of recent allopatric speciation is observed in species whose distribution is at the edge of the Indian and Pacific Ocean basins. In the widely distributed Conus ebraeus clade, the relationships of node heights and range extents of the member species support a key prediction of sympatric speciation. In highly ecologically specialized species, there is a smaller degree of sympatry than those species that are less specialized. Main conclusions The modes of speciation models presented in this study are not informative. This suggests that there had been large and possibly rapid changes in range size after speciation in the various clades. This could have been due to the fact that the wide dispersal life-history strategy in the genus had been largely conserved in Conus evolution. There is evidence of sympatric and parapatric speciation in one Conus clade. Overall, the patterns of phylogeny and range distribution when related to the timing of speciation lend circumstantial support to a Neogene centre of origin hypothesis but not to speciation on the Pacific Plate. Speciation is likely to have been associated with the Tethys Sea closure event, with rapid speciation occurring after closure.