Fossils of the Burgess Shale

The Burgess Shale fauna is comprised of more than 140 species in 119 genera, with the majority of species being benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms. In addition to specimens with the usual hard skeletal material fossilized, the excellent preservation has resulted in a large number of soft-bodied organisms being found (about 60-80%).

Benthic organisms are represented by many of the arthropods. At 40% of the total fauna, arthropods are by far the most numerous species found. The reconstruction presented on the left is designed to illustrate this relationship. In addition to benthic animals, pelagic (free swimming) species are also present (e.g. Pikaia, a chordate). Other well known species from the Burgess Shale include brachiopods, coelenterates, echinoderms, molluscs, worms, and sponges.

In the 1970s, a major reinterpretation of the fauna was carried out by Harry Whittington, Simon Conway Morris, and Derek Briggs. They found that many animals of the Burgess Shale did not belong to any known phyla. Although the taxonomic uncertainty how some species has been subsequently resolved some of the more peculiar animals are still classified as miscellaneous.

Due to the great diversity and abundance of species within each phylum, I have only included the more famous examples.

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