New non-invasive technologies allow direct measurement of heart rates (and thus, developmental rates) of embryos. We applied these methods to a diverse array of oviparous reptiles (24 species of lizards, 18 snakes, 11 turtles, 1 crocodilian), to identify general influences on cardiac rates during embryogenesis. Heart rates increased with ambient temperature in all lineages, but (at the same temperature) were faster in lizards and turtles than in snakes and crocodilians. We analysed these data within a phylogenetic framework. Embryonic heart rates were faster in species with smaller adult sizes, smaller egg sizes, and shorter incubation periods. Phylogenetic changes in heart rates were negatively correlated with concurrent changes in adult body mass and residual incubation period among the lizards, snakes (especially within pythons) and crocodilians. The total number of embryonic heart beats between oviposition and hatching was lower in squamates than in turtles or the crocodilian. Within squamates, embryonic iguanians and gekkonids required more heartbeats to complete development than did embryos of the other squamate families that we tested. These differences plausibly reflect phylogenetic divergence in the proportion of embryogenesis completed before versus after laying.