Phenotypic invariance—the outcome of purifying selection—is a hallmark of biological importance. However, invariant phenotypes might be controlled by diverged genetic systems in different species. Here, we explore how an important and invariant phenotype—the development of sexually differentiated individuals—is controlled in over two dozen species in the frog family Pipidae. We uncovered evidence in different species for 1) an ancestral W chromosome that is not found in many females and is found in some males, 2) independent losses and 3) autosomal segregation of this W chromosome, 4) changes in male versus female heterogamy, and 5) substantial variation among species in recombination suppression on sex chromosomes. We further provide evidence of, and evolutionary context for, the origins of at least seven distinct systems for regulating sex determination among three closely related genera. These systems are distinct in their genomic locations, evolutionary origins, and/or male versus female heterogamy. Our findings demonstrate that the developmental control of sexual differentiation changed via loss, sidelining, and empowerment of a mechanistically influential gene, and offer insights into novel factors that impinge on the diverse evolutionary fates of sex chromosomes.