The interleukin-1 gene family encodes a group of related proteins that exhibit a remarkable pleiotropy in the context of health and disease. The set of indispensable functions they control suggests that these genes should be found in all eukaryotic species. The ligands and receptors of this family have been primarily characterised in man and mouse. The genomes of most non-mammalian animal species sequenced so far possess all of the IL-1 receptor genes found in mammals. Yet, strikingly, very few of the ligands are identifiable in non-mammalian genomes. Our recent identification of two further IL-1 ligands in the chicken warranted a critical reappraisal of the evolution of this vitally important cytokine family. This review presents substantial data gathered across multiple, divergent metazoan genomes to unambiguously trace the origin of these genes. With the hypothesis that all of these genes, both ligands and receptors, were formed in a single ancient ancestor, extensive database mining revealed sufficient evidence to confirm this. It therefore suggests that the emergence of mammals is unrelated to the expansion of the IL-1 family. A thorough review of this cytokine family in the chicken, the most extensively studied amongst non-mammalian species, is also presented.