Early terrestrial vertebrates (amniotes) provide a classic example of diversification following adaptive zone invasion. The initial terrestrialization of vertebrates was closely followed by dietary diversification, as evidenced by a proliferation of craniomandibular and dental adaptations. However, morphological evolution of early amniotes has received limited study, in analyses with restricted taxonomic scope, leaving substantial questions about the dynamics of this important terrestrial radiation. We use novel analyses of discrete characters to quantify variation in evolutionary rates and constraints during diversification of the amniote feeding apparatus. We find evidence for an early burst, comprising high rates of anatomical change that decelerated through time, giving way to a background of saturated morphological evolution. Subsequent expansions of phenotypic diversity were not associated with increased evolutionary rates. Instead, variation in the mode of evolution became important, with groups representing independent origins of herbivory evolving distinctive, group-specific morphologies and thereby exploring novel character-state spaces. Our findings indicate the importance of plant–animal interactions in structuring the earliest radiation of amniotes and demonstrate the importance of variation in modes of phenotypic divergence during a major evolutionary radiation.