Fifteen per cent of all living fishes are united in a single suborder (Labroidei) and display a dazzling array of behavioural and ecological traits. The labroids are considered monophyletic and members share a pharyngeal jaw apparatus (PJA) modified for crushing and processing prey. Outside of the explicitly functional PJA, there is no corroborative evidence for a monophyletic Labroidei. Here, we report the first molecular phylogenetic analysis of the suborder. Contrary to morphology–based phylogenies, our single–copy nuclear DNA data do not support labroid families as a natural group. Our data indicate that pharyngognathy has evolved independently among labroid families and that characters of the PJA are not reliable markers of perciform evolution. This work ‘crushes’ conventional views of fish phylogeny and should engender novel concepts of piscine life history evolution.