All vertebrate animals share in common the production of lymph through net capillary filtration from their closed circulatory system into their tissues. The balance of forces responsible for net capillary filtration and lymph formation is described by the Starling equation, but additional factors such as vascular and interstitial compliance, which vary markedly among vertebrates, also have a significant impact on rates of lymph formation. Why vertebrates show extreme variability in rates of lymph formation and how nonmammalian vertebrates maintain plasma volume homeostasis is unclear. This gap hampers our understanding of the evolution of the lymphatic system and its interaction with the cardiovascular system. The evolutionary origin of the vertebrate lymphatic system is not clear, but recent advances suggest common developmental factors for lymphangiogenesis in teleost fishes, amphibians, and mammals with some significant changes in the water-land transition. The lymphatic system of anuran amphibians is characterized by large lymphatic sacs and two pairs of lymph hearts that return lymph into the venous circulation but no lymph vessels per se. The lymphatic systems of reptiles and some birds have lymph hearts, and both groups have extensive lymph vessels, but their functional role in both lymph movement and plasma volume homeostasis is almost completely unknown. The purpose of this review is to present an evolutionary perspective in how different vertebrates have solved the common problem of the inevitable formation of lymph from their closed circulatory systems and to point out the many gaps in our knowledge of this evolutionary progression. Copyright © 2013 the American Physiological Society.