The Burgess Shale

Eiffelia globosa

A globe-like calcareous sponge with star-shaped spicules

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

Animation by Phlesch Bubble © Royal Ontario Museum


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Porifera
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Calcarea (Order: Heteractinida)
Species name: Eiffelia globosa

Eiffelia is thought to fall near the divergence of the calcareous and hexactinellid sponges (Botting and Butterfield, 2005).

Described by: Walcott
Description date: 1920

Eiffelia – from the nearby Eiffel Peak, named on account of its resemblance to Paris’ Eiffel Tower. The tower bears the name of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), a French engineer famous for building many large steel structures.

globosa – from the Latin globus, “globe or ball,” reflecting the organism’s shape.

Type Specimens: Lectotype –USNM66522, in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: none.

Other deposits: E. araniformis Missarzhevsky and Mambetov, 1981 from several Early Cambrian small shelly fossil deposits (Bengtson et al., 1990; Skovsted, 2006).

Age & Localities:

Lower Cambrian to Middle Cambrian Bathyuriscus-Elrathina Zone (approximately 505 million years ago).
Principal localities:

The Trilobite Beds on Mount Stephen and the Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge.

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

Originally described by Walcott in 1920, little research concentrated on Eiffelia until it was re-described by Rigby in 1986 as part of his review of Burgess Shale sponges. Additional specimens collected by the Royal Ontario Museum were described subsequently by Rigby and Collins (2004). Bearing characteristics of both the calcareous and hexactinellid sponges, Eiffelia has been important in determining higher-level evolutionary relationships within the sponges. Eiffelia spicules form by the accretion of phosphate on a siliceous core, which provides a possible evolutionary transition between the minerals used in the construction of spicules (Botting and Butterfield, 2005)



Eiffelia is usually preserved as a flattened net of spicules within a single layer, forming a mesh with an approximately circular outline 1 to 6 cm in diameter. Spicules occur in at least five distinct size ranges. The largest ones usually take the form of six-pointed stars (hexaradiate), whereas the smallest ones usually have only four-pointed ends. The rays generally run parallel to one another, producing a somewhat geometric lattice-like appearance. The largest spicules, spaced a few millimetres apart from one another, enclose spicules of the second size class between their slender tapering rays. The smaller spicules, which are so small as to rarely be preserved, fill the remaining gaps in the mesh. The spicules themselves are joined by a small central disc formed from flared-out sections of their bases at the point where the six spines meet. Eiffelia’s spicules supported a thin wall that would have formed an orb-shaped sac perforated with occasional small elliptical openings (ostia).


Relatively rare in the Walcott Quarry where it represents only 0.1% of the Walcott Quarry community (Caron and Jackson, 2008).

Maximum Size:
60 mm


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

The sponge sat on the sea floor possibly sticking on hard surfaces. Particles of organic matter were extracted from the water as they passed through canals in the sponge’s wall.


BENGTSON, S. S. CONWAY MORRIS, B. J. COOPER, P. A. JELL AND B. N. RUNNEGAR. 1990. Early Cambrian fossils from South Australia, 9, 364 p.

BOTTING, J. P. AND N. J. BUTTERFIELD. 2005. Reconstructing early sponge relationships by using the Burgess Shale fossil Eiffelia globosa, Walcott. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(5): 1554.

CARON, J.-B. AND D. A. JACKSON. 2008. Paleoecology of the Greater Phyllopod Bed community, Burgess Shale. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 258: 222-256.

RIGBY, J. K. 1986. Sponges of the Burgess Shale (Middle Cambrian), British Columbia. Palaeontographica Canadiana, 2: 1-105.

RIGBY, J. K. AND D. COLLINS. 2004. Sponges of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale and Stephen Formations, British Columbia. Royal Ontario Museum Contributions in Science, 1: 1-155.

SKOVSTED, C. B. 2006. Small shelly fauna from the Upper Lower Cambrian Bastion and Ella Island Formations, North-East Greenland. Journal of Paleontology, 80:1087-1112.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1920. Middle Cambrian Spongiae. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 67(6): 261-364.

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