Until recently, the textbook view of cellulose hydrolysis in animals was that gut-resident symbiotic organisms such as bacteria or unicellular eukaryotes are responsible for the cellulases produced. This view has been challenged by the characterization and sequencing of endogenous cellulase genes from some invertebrate animals, including plant-parasitic nematodes, arthropods and a mollusc. Most of these genes are completely unrelated in terms of sequence, and their evolutionary origins remain unclear. In the case of plant-parasitic nematodes, it has been suggested that their ancestor obtained a cellulase gene via horizontal gene transfer from a prokaryote, and similar suggestions have been made about a cellulase gene recently discovered in a sea squirt. To improve understanding about the evolution of animal cellulases, we searched for all known types of these enzymes in GenBank, and performed phylogenetic comparisons. Low phylogenetic resolution was found among most of the sequences examined, however, positional identity in the introns of cellulase genes from a termite, a sea squirt and an abalone provided compelling evidence that a similar gene was present in the last common ancestor of protostomes and deuterostomes. In a different enzyme family, cellulases from beetles and plant-parasitic nematodes were found to cluster together. This result questions the idea of lateral gene transfer into the ancestors of the latter, although statistical tests did not allow this possibility to be ruled out. Overall, our results suggest that at least one family of endogenous cellulases may be more widespread in animals than previously thought.