Quantitative information on large scale spatial patterns of biodiversity remains poor. This is arguably a consequence of the disproportionate emphasis given to species as units of diversity. In this paper the regional biodiversity of terrestrial and freshwater seed plants, beetles, amphibians, reptiles and mammals is mapped worldwide at the family level. The `hotspots' of family richness are located in southeast Asia for one group, in the New World for two groups, in Africa for one group, and the fifth group has tied values in southeast Asia and the New World. Seed plants, amphibians, reptiles and mammals show classic latitudinal gradients in family richness; beetle family richness essentially lacks a strong latitudinal gradient. A very high proportion of the families of each of the five taxonomic groups can be embraced within a small number of regions.