The fossil record of non-marine tetrapods (amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) has been described by numerous authors1-3, and major ecological replacements, mass extinctions and adaptive radiations have been identified. However, most of these features of the large-scale evolution of tetrapods have been noted without numerical data of the kind assembled for marine invertebrates4-10, marine vertebrates7-10 and vascular land plants11. Much has been learnt from the record of marine invertebrates, particularly about the overall patterns of diversification with time, the performance of different major taxonomic groups at different times, and the magnitude and timing of mass extinctions. The present study tests some of the general conclusions on the basis of a new compilation of data on the fossil record of terrestrial tetrapods. I show that family diversity rose with time, and in particular from the Cretaceous to the present day. There were several mass extinction events, but none of these was associated with a statistically high extinction rate. The extinction events, including the famous terminal Cretaceous extinction, were the result of a slightly elevated extinction rate combined with a depressed origination rate, and the present evidence does not support the view that mass extinctions are statistically distinguishable from background extinctions. Further, the record of non-marine tetrapods shows an increasing total extinction rate and an only marginally decreasing probability of extinction (per-taxon rate) from the late Devonian to the present, the opposite of the findings from the record of marine animals.