Collinsovermis is one of a variety of lobopodian taxa from the Cambrian, which are early members of the lineage that gave rise to arthropods, and whose only modern survivors are onychophorans (velvet worms) and tardigrades (water bears). Lobopodians characteristically have annulated, unjointed bodies and bear soft limbs after which they are called: the lobopods. Collinsovermis is an armoured member of the Order Luolishaniida, along with forms such as Collinsium and Luolishania from China, or Acinocricus from Utah—together forming the family Collinsovermidae. Luolishaniids are characterized by their thin spines arranged in chevrons and the differentiation of their body into functional regions for suspension-feeding (Caron & Aria 2017, 2020).
Collinsovermis – Collins, patronymic, honours its discoverer, Desmond Collins, and vermis is Latin for worm.
monstruosus – From the Latin, in reference to the nickname ‘Collins’ monster’, first introduced by Delle Cave & Simonetta (1991).
Burgess Shale and vicinity: None.
Other deposits: None.
Collected by a Royal Ontario Museum expedition on Mount Stephen in 1983, the Collinsovermis animal was first revealed, unnamed and undescribed, in the non-peer-reviewed magazine Rotunda (former name of the Royal Ontario Museum Magazine), as a single picture of the holotype, with the caption: “What is it? This new spiny animal (4 cm) with hairy legs has a body plan that has not been seen before.” In 1991, Italian scientists Delle Cave and Simonetta (1991) provided a brief description of the taxon and attempted a reconstruction solely based on the photograph provided by Collins in the Rotunda magazine, coining it the “Collins’ monster”. Despite the lack of name and good documentation, the Collins’ monster have repeatedly featured in studies tackling lobopodian evolution and phylogeny (e.g., Ramsköld & Chen 1998; Budd 2001; Ou et al. 2011; Caron & Aria 2017). It was only in 2020 that the animal was formally named Collinsovermis monstruosus, in honour of Desmond Collins, and fully described based on high resolution pictures of all available material (Caron & Aria 2020).
Collinsovermis has a plump appearance, with an annulated, unjointed body divided into anterior and posterior regions. The entire dorsum of the body is covered in well-developed spines—three short pairs cover the first three somites (“body segments”) behind the head, while triads of longs spines cover the remaining 10 somites. The anterior region bears 6 pairs of elongate lobopods with thin spines arranged in chevrons, and a small head, as a protrusion bearing a pair of sensory filaments as well as a small dorsal plate and a frontal mouth. The posterior region is made ventrally of 8 pairs of stout annulated lobopods ending in strong, single claws.
Like other lobopodians, Collinsovermis is excessively rare. There are only 3 specimens known, all from the Collins Quarry on Mount Stephen (Fletcher & Collins 2003). They are housed at the Royal Ontario Museum, Department of Natural History.
Collinsovermis exemplifies suspension-feeding adaptations in lobopodians associated with strongly-developed defensive elements. Like other members of the order Luolishaniidae, and those of the family bearing its name, this animal was using its stout back limbs for anchoring (probably to sponges) and its slender spinose anterior limbs to sieve organic particles or plankton. The long dorsal spines most certainly served as deterrent to predators.