One central goal of evolutionary biology is to explain how biological diversity emerges and is maintained in nature. Given the complexity of the phenotype and the multifaceted nature of inheritance, modern evolutionary ecological studies rely heavily on the use of molecular tools. Here, we show how molecular tools help to gain insight into the role of egg coats (i.e. the extracellular structures surrounding eggs and embryos) in evolutionary diversification. Egg coats are maternally derived structures that have many biological functions from mediating fertilization to protecting the embryo from environmental hazards. They show great molecular, structural and functional diversity across species, but intraspecific variability and the role of ecology in egg coat evolution have largely been overlooked. Given that much of the variation that influences egg coat function is ultimately determined by their molecular phenotype, cutting-edge molecular tools (e.g. proteomics, glycomics and transcriptomics), combined with functional assays, are needed for rigorous inferences on their evolutionary ecology. Here, we identify key research areas and highlight emerging molecular techniques that can increase our understanding of the role of egg coats in the evolution of biological diversity, from adaptation to speciation.