To understand the functional meaning of morphological features, we need to relate what we know about morphology and ecology in a meaningful, quantitative framework. Closely related species usually share more phenotypic features than distant ones, but close relatives do not necessarily have the same ecologies. Rodents are the most diverse group of living mammals, with impressive ecomorphological diversification. We used museum collections and ecological literature to gather data on morphology, diet and locomotion for 208 species of rodents from different bioregions to investigate how morphological similarity and phylogenetic relatedness are associated with ecology. After considering differences in body size and shared evolutionary history, we find that unrelated species with similar ecologies can be characterized by a well-defined suite of morphological features. Our results validate the hypothesized ecological relevance of the chosen traits. These cranial, dental and external (e.g. ears) characters predicted diet and locomotion and showed consistent differences among species with different feeding and substrate use strategies. We conclude that when ecological characters do not show strong phylogenetic patterns, we cannot simply assume that close relatives are ecologically similar. Museum specimens are valuable records of species' phenotypes and with the characters proposed here, morphology can reflect functional similarity, an important component of community ecology and macroevolution.