The Burgess Shale

Chancelloria eros

A hollow, cactus-like fossil of unknown affinity

3D animation of Chancelloria eros, a sponge-like form covered of star-shaped spines, with various sponges (Choia ridleyi, Diagoniella cyathiformis, Eiffelia globosa, Hazelia conferta, Pirania muricata, Vauxia bellula, and Wapkia elongata).

Animation by Phlesch Bubble © Royal Ontario Museum


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Unknown
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Unranked clade Coeloscleritophora (Order: Chancelloriida)
Species name: Chancelloria eros

Two main hypotheses exist for the affinity of the chancelloriids: they may form a group with Halkieria and relatives, nested close to the base of the bilaterian tree (Bengtson, 2005), or they may simply represent a sponge-grade organism with an unusual mode of spicule formation (Sperling et al., 2007).

Described by: Walcott
Description date: 1920

Chancelloria – from the nearby Chancellor Peak (3,280 m), which was named to honour the Ontario Chancellor Sir John Boyd for his role in resolving an 1886 dispute between the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian Government.

eros – unspecified; either from the Latin erosus, “gnawed off” or “consumed,” or the Greek erotikos, “pertaining to love.”

Type Specimens: Lectotype –USNM66524 in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: none.

Other deposits: Walcott (1920) described C. drusilla, C. libo and C. yorkensis from Middle Cambrian deposits in the Conasauga shales of Georgia, the Conasauga shales of Alabama, and the York formation of Pennsylvania, respectively. Other workers have described C. maroccana Szduy, 1969 from the Lower Cambrian Campo Pisano Formation, Sardinia, Italy; C. pentacta Rigby, 1978, from the Middle Cambrian Wheeler Shale, Utah, USA (Rigby, 1978); C. sp., from the Cambrian Bright Angel Shale of Arizona (Elliott and Martin, 1987); C. cf. eros from the Early Cambrian (Branchian) Sekwi Formation, Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada (Randell et al., 2005); C. sp., from the Elvinia Zone (Upper Cambrian) Collier Shale, Ouachita Mountains, west-central Arkansas (Hohensee and Stitt, 1989); C. sp. from King George Island, Antarctica (Wrona, 2004).

Age & Localities:

Cambrian Stage 2 (basal Botomian, upper Lower Cambrian) to uppermost Middle Cambrian, Bolaspidella Zone (approximately 525-505 million years ago).
Principal localities:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: Chancellorids are known from all Burgess Shale localities, in particular from the Walcott, Raymond and Collins Quarries on Fossil Ridge, as well as on Mount Stephen (Trilobite Beds, and Tulip Beds (S7)), Monarch Cirque and other smaller localities. Work is currently in progress to determine how many of these Chancelloria specimens in fact represent other genera, in particular Allonnia and Archiasterella (see below).

Other deposits: C. eros is globally distributed, and has been reported from the Middle Cambrian Wheeler Shale (and Marjum Formation), Utah, USA (Janussen et al., 2002); Lower Cambrian Comley Limestone, England (Reid, 1959); upper Lower to lower Middle Cambrian La Laja Formation, Argentina (Beresi and Rigby, 1994); Andrarum Limestone and the upper alum shale (Middle Cambrian) of Bornholm, Denmark (Berg-Madsen, 1985); Lower Cambrian of Nevada and California (Mason, 1938); the Lower Cambrian of Cape Breton Island (Landing, 1991); the Early Cambrian Todd River Dolomite, Amadeus Basin, central Australia (Laurie, 1986), the Çal Tepe Formation, Taurus Mountains, Turkey (Sarmiento et al., 2001); the Lower Cambrian Forteau Formation of western Newfoundland (Skovsted and Peel, 2007); the Lower Cambrian Hyolithes Limestone of Nuneaton, England (Brasier, 1984).

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

Walcott (1920) considered Chancelloria to represent a sponge, a position that was followed by the majority of subsequent workers. However its mode of sclerite formation is reputedly unlike anything known in modern sponges: the hollow sclerites are composed of multiple elements that are joined together (Bengtson and Missarzhevsky, 1981), with a structure similar to the sclerites of Halkieria (Porter, 2008). This detail convinced most that the chancelloriids could not belong to the sponges (Goryanski, 1973; Bengtson and Hou, 2001). However, some disagree, pointing out that the organic microstructure does have some similarity to the fibres of horny sponges (Butterfield and Nicholas, 1996), suggesting a position in the sponge total group (see also Sperling et al., 2007). The specimens from the Burgess Shale are currently undergoing a detailed re-study and some specimens will doubtlessly be reclassified into other chancelloriid genera (Bengtson and Collins, 2009).



Chancelloria resembled a cylindrical cactus up to 20 centimetres tall. An assortment of star-shaped spines constitutes a loose and unconnected net arranged in various fashions. These spines formed a tight ring around the top of the organism, which seems to have surrounded a pore. Water would probably have passed through this opening and any organic particles would have been filtered out for food.

The spicules of Chancelloria, which varied from millimetric to about a centimetre in diameter, were composed of hollow rays that were stuck together at a central point to form a three-dimensional structure shaped like an umbrella. A central ray pointed out from the organism, and other rays radiating outwards at an angle closer to the surface of the organism, presumably to aid in defence. The nature of the rays distinguishes between the chancelloriid genera and species; C. eros bears four to seven rays per spicule. The closely related Allonnia is differentiated from Chancelloria by its more globular shape and the details of its sclerite construction, which consists of three main rays. A third genus, Archiasterella, is also represented in the Burgess Shale and differs from the two other genera in sclerite morphology and numbers of rays.


Chancelloria accounts for under 0.5% of the Burgess Shale community (Caron and Jackson, 2008), including specimens that may belong to Allonnia or Archiasterella.

Maximum Size:
200 mm


Life habits: Epibenthic, Sessile
Feeding strategies: Suspension feeder
Ecological Interpretations:

Chancelloria primarily attached itself to organisms, commonly sponges or other chancelloriids, but also on occasion to shell fragments that may have been partially buried in the sea floor. It remained in this anchored position and fed by extracting particles from seawater, which it sucked in and squeezed out through an opening in the top of its body. It spines probably served as a defence against predators.


BENGTSON, S. 2005. Mineralized skeletons and early animal evolution, p. 101-124. In D. E. G. Briggs (ed.), Evolving form and function: fossils and development. Proceedings of a symposium honoring Adolf Seilacher for his contributions to paleontology, in celebration of his 80th birthday. Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, Connecticut.

BENGTSON, S. AND D. COLLINS. 2009. Burgess Shale Chancelloriids – A Prickly Problem. International Conference on the Cambrian Explosion (Walcott 2009), Banff.

BENGTSON, S. AND X. HOU. 2001. The integument of Cambrian chancelloriids. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 46: 1-22.

BENGTSON, S. AND V. V. MISSARZHEVSKY. 1981. Coeloscleritophora-a major group of enigmatic Cambrian metazoans. United States Geological Survey Open-file Report, 81-743: 19-21.

BERESI, M. S. AND J. K. RIGBY. 1994. Sponges and Chancelloriids from the Cambrian of Western Argentina. Journal of Paleontology, 68: 208-217.

BRASIER, M. D. 1984. Microfossils and small shelly fossils from the Lower Cambrian Hyolithes Limestone at Nuneaton, English Midlands. Geological Magazine, 121: 229-253.

BUTTERFIELD, N. J. AND C. J. NICHOLAS. 1996. Burgess Shale-type preservation of both non-mineralizing and “shelly” Cambrian organisms from the Mackenzie Mountains, northwestern Canada. Journal of Paleontology, 70: 893-899.

ELLIOTT, D. K. AND D. L. MARTIN. 1987. Chancelloria, an Enigmatic Fossil from the Bright Angel Shale (Cambrian) of Grand Canyon, Arizona. Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science, 21: 67-72.

GORYANSKY, V. Y. 1973. O neobkhodimosti isklucheniya roda Chancelloria Walcott iz tipa gubok. [On the necessity of exclusion of Chancelloria Walcott from the phylum Porifera.] Trudy Institute Geologia; Geofizika Sibirskoye Otdeieniye 49: 34-44. [in Russian].

HOHENSEE, S. R. AND J. H. STITT. 1989. Redeposited Elvinia Zone (Upper Cambrian) trilobites from the Collier Shale, Ouachita Mountains, west-central Arkansas. Journal of Paleontology, 63: 857-879.

JANUSSEN, D. M. STEINER, AND Z. MAOYAN. 2002. New well-preserved scleritomes of Chancelloridae from the Early Cambrian Yuanshan Formation (Chengjiang, China) and the Middle Cambrian Wheeler Shale (Utah, USA) and paleobiological implications. Journal of Paleontology, 76: 596-606.

LANDING, E. 1991. Upper Precambrian through Lower Cambrian of Cape Breton Island: Faunas, Paleoenvironments, and Stratigraphic Revision. Journal of Paleontology, 65: 570-595.

LAURIE, J. R. 1986. Phosphatic fauna of the Early Cambrian Todd River Dolomite, Amadeus Basin, central Australia. Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology, 10: 431-454.

MASON, J. F. 1938. Cambrian Faunal Succession in Nevada and California. Journal of Paleontology, 12: 287-294.

PORTER, S. M. 2008. Skeletal microstructure indicates Chancelloriids and Halkieriids are closely related. Palaeontology, 51: 865-879.

RANDELL, R. D., B. S. LIEBERMAN, S. T. HASIOTIS, AND M. C. POPE, 2005. New chancelloriids from the Early Cambrian Sekwi Formation with a comment on chancelloriid affinities. Journal of Paleontology, 79: 987-996.

REID, R. E. H. 1959. Occurrence of Chancelloria Walcott in the Comley Limestone. Geological Magazine, 96: 261-262.

RIGBY, J. K. 1978. Porifera of the Middle Cambrian Wheeler Shale, from the Wheeler Amphitheater, House Range, in Western Utah. Journal of Paleontology, 52: 1325-1345.

SARMIENTO, G. N., D. FERNÁNDEZ REMOLAR, AND M. CEMAL GONCÜOGLU. 2001. Cambrian small shelly fossils from the Çal Tepe Formation, Taurus Mountains, Turkey. Coloquios de paleontología:117.

SKOVSTED, C. B. AND J. S. PEEL. 2007. Small shelly fossils from the argillaceous facies of the Lower Cambrian Forteau Formation of western Newfoundland. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 52: 729.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1920. Cambrian geology and paleontology. IV. Middle Cambrian Spongiae. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 67: 261-364.

WRONA, R. 2004. Cambrian microfossils from glacial erratics of King George Island, Antarctica. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 49: 13-56.

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