In mammals, haptoglobin (Hp) is an acute-phase plasma protein that binds with high affinity to hemoglobin (Hb) released by intravascular hemolysis. The resultant Hp-Hb complexes are bound and cleared by the scavenger receptor CD163, limiting Hb-induced oxidative damage. In this study, we show that Hp is a divergent member of the complement-initiating MASP family of proteins, which emerged in the ancestor of jawed vertebrates. We demonstrate that Hp has been independently lost from multiple vertebrate lineages, that characterized Hb-interacting residues of mammals are poorly conserved in nonmammalian species maintaining Hp, and that the extended loop 3 region of Hp, which mediates CD163 binding, is present only in mammals. We show that the Hb-binding ability of cartilaginous fish (nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum; small-spotted catshark, Scyliorhinus canicula; and thornback ray, Raja clavata) and teleost fish (rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss) Hp is species specific, and where binding does occur it is likely mediated through a different structural mechanism to mammalian Hp. The continued, high-level expression of Hp in cartilaginous fishes in which Hb binding is not evident signals that Hp has (an)other, yet unstudied, role(s) in these species. Previous work indicates that mammalian Hp also has secondary, immunomodulatory functions that are independent of Hb binding; our work suggests these may be remnants of evolutionary more ancient functions, retained after Hb removal became the primary role of Hp in mammals.