The Burgess Shale

Emeraldella brocki

A small, predatory arthropod with a long tail and antennae

Reconstruction of Emeraldella brocki.

© Marianne Collins


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Unranked clade (stem group arthropods)
Species name: Emeraldella brocki

Emeraldella is of uncertain phylogenetic affinity due to the paucity of specimens. It was previously placed in the arachnomorphs, as closely allied either with the chelicerates (Wills et al. 1998; Cotton and Braddy, 2004; Hendricks and Lieberman, 2008) or the trilobites and lamellipedians (Hou and Bergström, 1997; Edgecombe and Ramsköld, 1999; Scholtz and Edgecombe, 2006), but it has also been considered as a stem-lineage euarthropod (Budd, 2002).

Described by: Walcott
Description date: 1912

Emeraldella – from Emerald Lake, Peak, Pass, River and Glacier north of Burgess Pass, British Columbia, Canada. Emerald Lake was named by guide Tom Wilson in 1882 for the remarkable deep green colour of the water.

brocki – for Reginald Walter Brock, Director of the Geological Survey of Canada from 1907 to 1914.

Type Specimens: Lectotype –USNM57702 in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: none.

Other deposits: Emeraldella sp? from the Marjum Formation, House Range, Utah, USA.

Age & Localities:

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

The Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

Emeraldella brocki was first described by Walcott (1912). Bruton and Whittington (1983) restudied the material in detail, clarifying many aspects of the animal’s morphology. One possible specimen of Emeraldella has also been described from the Marjum Formation in Utah (Briggs and Robison, 1984). Further work examining the phylogenetic placement of Emeraldella and the arachnomorphs has been conducted by Hou and Bergström (1997), Wills et al.(1998), Edgecombe and Ramsköld (1999), Budd (2002), Cotton and Braddy (2004), Scholtz and Edgecombe (2006) and Hendricks and Lieberman (2008).



The body consists of a semicircular head shield, segmented trunk and elongated posterior spine, with total body length (excluding spine and antennae) ranging between 1.1 cm and 6.5 cm. With antennae and spine the entire animal would have reached up to 15 cm in length. The body is convex in cross-section and tapers along the posterior half of the trunk. The head shield is smooth, with no evidence of eyes. A pair of long, flexible antennae consisting of over 110 short segments with bristled junctions is attached to the ventral surface at the front of the head. The mouth is ventral and faces backwards. Behind the antennae are five pairs of biramous limbs with a segmented inner branch and a lobed outer branch. The inner branch has six podomeres, including the gnathobase (a robust and spiny basal podomere or segment used for crushing food items), four adjacent podomeres that also bear spines, and a slender terminal podomere armed with three sharp claws. The outer branch of the biramous limb is broad and has three main lobes with filaments and blades.

The trunk of Emeraldella has eleven broad segments with curved, smooth margins. Each segment has a pair of biramous limbs similar to the ones of the head. Behind the trunk segments are two cylindrical body tergites and a long, tapering posterior spine. A dark band running the length of the trunk and into the base of the posterior spine may be the alimentary canal. In the head region, the alimentary canal is U-shaped as it leads forward and upwards from the backward-facing mouth.


Emeraldella brocki is very rare in the Walcott Quarry (less than 0.01% of the community, Caron and Jackson, 2008).

Maximum Size:
202 mm


Life habits: Nektobenthic, Mobile
Feeding strategies: Carnivorous
Ecological Interpretations:

The inner branches of the biramous limbs were likely used for walking on the sea floor, especially the middle eight or nine limbs, which were longer than the posterior limbs. Spines on the inner margin of the walking limbs could have been used to grasp soft prey items, and the terminal claws would push food towards the ventral gnathobases. These strong spiny plates would then shred the food and pass it along the underside of the body towards the mouth. The antennae were used to explore the environment and search for live prey or carcasses, perhaps by ploughing through the soft sediment. While the head was tilted down in the search for food, the posterior segments of the body and the posterior spine may have flexed upwards for balance. The outer limb lobes likely served as gills for respiration. The animal might have been capable of short bursts of swimming, using its broad outer limb branches to propel itself through the water using a wave-like motion.


BRIGGS, D. E. G. AND R. A. ROBISON. 1984. Exceptionally preserved non-trilobite arthropods and Anomalocaris from the Middle Cambrian of Utah. The University of Kansas Paleontological Contributions, 111: 1-24.

BRUTON, D. L. AND H. B. WHITTINGTON. 1983. Emeraldella and Leanchoilia, two arthropods from the Burgess Shale, Middle Cambrian, British Columbia. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, 300: 553-582.

BUDD, G. E. 2002. A palaeontological solution to the arthropod head problem. Nature, 417: 271-275.

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

COTTON, T.J. AND S. J. BRADDY. 2004. The phylogeny of arachnomorph arthropods and the origin of the Chelicerata. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh-Earth Sciences, 94: 169-193.

EDGECOMBE, G. D. AND L. RAMSKÖLD. 1999. Relationships of Cambrian Arachnata and the systematic position of Trilobita. Journal of Paleontology, 73: 263-287.

HENDRICKS , J. R. AND B. S. LIEBERMAN. 2008. Phylogenetic insights into the Cambrian radiation of arachnomorph arthropods. Journal of Paleontology, 82: 585-594.

HOU, X. AND J. BERGSTRÖM. 1997. Arthropods of the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang fauna, southwest China. Fossils and Strata, 45: 1-116.

SCHOLTZ, G. AND G. D. EDGECOMBE. 2006. The evolution of arthropod heads: reconciling morphological, developmental and palaeontological evidence. Development Genes and Evolution, 216: 395-415.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1912. Middle Cambrian Branchiopoda, Malacostraca, Trilobita and Merostomata. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 57: 145-228.

WILLS, M. A., D. E. G. BRIGGS, R. A. FORTEY, M. WILKINSON, AND P. H. SNEATH. 1998. An arthropod phylogeny based on fossil and recent taxa. pp. 33-105. In G. D. Edgecombe (ed.), Arthropod Fossils and Phylogeny. Columbia University Press, New York.

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