Molecular systematists need increased access to nuclear genes. Highly conserved, low copy number protein-encoding nuclear genes have attractive features for phylogenetic inference but have heretofore been applied mostly to very ancient divergences. By virtue of their synonymous substitutions, such genes should contain a wealth of information about lower-level taxonomic relationships as well, with the advantage that amino acid conservatism makes both alignment and primer definition straightforward. We tested this postulate for the elongation factor-1 alpha (EF-1 alpha) gene in the noctuid moth subfamily Heliothinae, which has probably diversified since the middle Tertiary. We sequenced 1,240 bp in 18 taxa representing heliothine groupings strongly supported by previous morphological and allozyme studies. The single most parsimonious gene tree and the neighbor-joining tree for all nucleotides show almost complete concordance with the morphological tree. Homoplasy and pairwise divergence levels are low, transition/transversion ratios are high, and phylogenetic information is spread evenly across gene regions. The EF-1 alpha gene and presumably other highly conserved genes hold much promise for phylogenetics of Tertiary age eukaryote groups.