Vertebrates, as most animal phyla, originated >500 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion, and progressively radiated into the extant classes. Inferring the evolutionary history of the group requires understanding the architecture of the developmental programs that constrain the vertebrate anatomy. Here, I review recent comparative genomic and epigenomic studies, based on ChIP-seq and chromatin accessibility, which focus on the identification of functionally equivalent cis-regulatory modules among species. This pioneer work, primarily centered in the mammalian lineage, has set the groundwork for further studies in representative vertebrate and chordate species. Mapping of active regulatory regions across lineages will shed new light on the evolutionary forces stabilizing ancestral developmental programs, as well as allowing their variation to sustain morphological adaptations on the inherited vertebrate body plan.