Synonymous codon usage bias is determined by a combination of mutational biases, selection at the level of translation, and genetic drift. In a study of mtDNA in insects, we analyzed patterns of codon usage across a phylogeny of 88 insect species spanning 12 orders. We employed a likelihood-based method for estimating levels of codon bias and determining major codon preference that removes the possible effects of genome nucleotide composition bias. Three questions are addressed: (1) How variable are codon bias levels across the phylogeny? (2) How variable are major codon preferences? and (3) Are there phylogenetic constraints on codon bias or preference? There is high variation in the level of codon bias values among the 88 taxa, but few readily apparent phylogenetic patterns. Bias level shifts within the lepidopteran genus Papilio are most likely a result of population size effects. Shifts in major codon preference occur across the tree in all of the amino acids in which there was bias of some level. The vast majority of changes involves double-preference models, however, and shifts between single preferred codons within orders occur only 11 times. These shifts among codons in double-preference models are phylogenetically conservative.