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Walcottidiscus typicalis

A large globular echinoderm with distinctive star-shaped food groves

Image of Walcottidiscus typicalis.

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Walcottidiscus typicalis (GSC 45368). Complete but poorly preserved specimen. Specimen diameter = 18 mm. Specimen dry – direct light. Walcott Quarry.

© Geological Survey of Canada. Photo: Jean-Bernard Caron

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Edrioasteroidea (Order: Edrioasteroida, stem group echinoderms)


Walcottidiscus is a poorly known edrioasteroid, an extinct group of echinoderms (Smith, 1985).

Species name:

Walcottidiscus typicalis

Described by:


Description date:



Walcottidiscus – from Charles Walcott, the discoverer of the Burgess Shale, and the Greek diskos, “disc.” The name refers to the flattened appearance of the fossils.

typicalis – from the Greek typikos, “type,” perhaps in reference to the single specimen originally described.

Type Specimens:

Holotype –USNM90754 (W. typicalis),USNM90755 (W. magister) in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.

Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: W. magister Bassler, 1935 from the Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge (but see below paragraph brief history of research).

Other deposits: none.

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Middle Cambrian, Bathyuriscus-Elrathina Zone (approximately 505 million years ago).

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Principal localities:

The Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge.

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History of Research

Brief history of research:

Two species known from a single specimen each were originally described by Bassler in 1935 and 1936: a small form W. typicalis, and a larger form W. magister respectively. However, W. magister is now thought to belong to W. typicalis (Smith, 1985) but additional fossil material would be required to confirm this hypothesis. Walcottidiscus resembles Kailidiscus chinensis, a chinese form from the Middle Cambrian Kaili deposit, but remains too poorly known to draw more detailed comparisons between the two genera (Zhao et al., 2010).

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The body (theca) is ovoid in outline and has a relatively small dorsal surface compared to the ventral one. The upper central part of the theca is not calcified, but the outer zone is composed of small calcified plates. A five star-shaped food groove lined with small plates (the ambulacra) is present on the upper surface. The five arms of the ambulacra are arranged in a 2:1:2 fashion around the mouth, and they are at first straight and then turn to the left near the edge of the theca. Differences between the two species are the size and degree of ambulacral curvature, but those differences could simply be a factor of growth.


Walcottidiscus is very rare only two specimens were originally described. A few additional specimens are known in the Burgess Shale collections of the Geological Survey of Canada and the Royal Ontario Museum.

Maximum size:

64 mm

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Life habits:

Epibenthic, sessile

Feeding strategies:

Suspension feeder

Ecological Interpretations:

Walcottidiscus was most likely resting on the seafloor. Food particles were transported by food grooves (ambulacrum) into a central mouth at the top of the theca.

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BASSLER, R. S. 1935. The classification of the Edrioasteroidea. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 93: 1-11.

BASSLER, R. S. 1936. New species of American Edrioasteroidea. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 95: 1-33.

SMITH, A. B. 1985. Cambrian eleutherozoan echinoderms and the early diversification of edrioasteroids. Palaeontology, 28: 715-756.

ZHAO, Y., C. D. SUMRALL, R. L. PARSLEY AND J. I. N. PENG. 2010. Kailidiscus, a new plesiomorphic edrioasteroid from the basal Middle Cambrian Kaili biota of Guizhou province, China. Journal of Paleontology, 84: 668-680.

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