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The “evolution” of Anomalocaris and its classification in the arthropod class Dinocarida (nov.) and order Radiodonta (nov.)

  • Desmond Collins (a1)

The remarkable “evolution” of the reconstructions of Anomalocaris, the extraordinary predator from the 515 million year old Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale of British Columbia, reflects the dramatic changes in our interpretation of early animal life on Earth over the past 100 years. Beginning in 1892 with a claw identified as the abdomen and tail of a phyllocarid crustacean, parts of Anomalocaris have been described variously as a jellyfish, a sea-cucumber, a polychaete worm, a composite of a jellyfish and sponge, or have been attached to other arthropods as appendages. Charles D. Walcott collected complete specimens of Anomalocaris nathorsti between 1911 and 1917, and a Geological Survey of Canada party collected an almost complete specimen of Anomalocaris canadensis in 1966 or 1967, but neither species was adequately described until 1985. At that time they were interpreted by Whittington and Briggs to be representatives of “a hitherto unknown phylum.”

Here, using recently collected specimens, the two species are newly reconstructed and described in the genera Anomalocaris and Laggania, and interpreted to be members of an extinct arthropod class, Dinocarida, and order Radiodonta, new to science. The long history of inaccurate reconstruction and mistaken identification of Anomalocaris and Laggania exemplifies our great difficulty in visualizing and classifying, from fossil remains, the many Cambrian animals with no apparent living descendants.

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Journal of Paleontology
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