Introduction: Many marine planktonic crustaceans such as copepods have been considered as widespread organisms. However, the growing evidence for cryptic and pseudo-cryptic speciation has emphasized the need of re-evaluating the status of copepod species complexes in molecular and morphological studies to get a clearer picture about pelagic marine species as evolutionary units and their distributions. This study analyses the molecular diversity of the ecologically important Paracalanus parvus species complex. Its seven currently recognized species are abundant and also often dominant in marine coastal regions worldwide from temperate to tropical oceans. Results: COI and Cytochrome b sequences of 160 specimens of the Paracalanus parvus complex from all oceans were obtained. Furthermore, 42 COI sequences from GenBank were added for the genetic analyses. Thirteen distinct molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTU) and two single sequences were revealed with cladistic analyses (Maximum Likelihood, Bayesian Inference), of which seven were identical with results from species delimitation methods (barcode gaps, ABDG, GMYC, Rosenberg’s P(AB)). In total, 10 to 12 putative species were detected and could be placed in three categories: (1) temperate geographically isolated, (2) warm-temperate to tropical wider spread and (3) circumglobal warm-water species. Conclusions: The present study provides evidence of cryptic or pseudocryptic speciation in the Paracalanus parvus complex. One major insight is that the species Paracalanus parvus s.s. is not panmictic, but may be restricted in its distribution to the northeastern Atlantic.