The Burgess Shale

Hamptonia bowerbanki

A large sponge with long, radiating spicules

Hamptonia bowerbanki (ROM 53547). Overall view and close up of a large specimen showing the long and coarse oxeas (spicules). Specimen length = 184 mm. Specimen wet – polarized light (both images). Tulip Beds (S7) on Mount Stephen.

© Royal Ontario Museum. Photos: Jean-Bernard Caron


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Porifera
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Demospongea (Order: Monaxonida)
Species name: Hamptonia bowerbanki

Hamptonia is considered a primitive demosponge (Rigby, 1986). Demosponges, the same group that are harvested as bath sponges, represent the largest class of sponges today.

Described by: Walcott
Description date: 1920

Hamptonia – unspecified, but it comes possibly from the town of Hampton in Virginia. This town is home of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, which Walcott helped to create when he became first chairman of the NACA Executive Committee in 1915 (predecessor of NASA).

bowerbanki – for British naturalist and palaeontologist James Scott Bowerbank (1797-1877), best known for his studies of British sponges.

Type Specimens: Lectotype –USNM66493 (H. bowerbanki) in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA. Holotype –ROM44270 (H. elongata) in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: H. elongata Rigby and Collins, 2004 from the east side of Mount Field in Yoho National Park.

Other deposits: H. parva, from the Middle Cambrian Wheeler and Marjum Formations in Utah (Rigby et al., 2010); H. christi from the Lower Ordovician of Morocco (Botting, 2007).

Age & Localities:

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

Burgess Shale and vicinity: The Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge. The Trilobite Beds and Tulip Beds (S7) on Mount Stephen.

Other deposits: H. bowerbanki from the Middle Cambrian Wheeler and Marjum Formations in Utah (Rigby et al., 2010).

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

Hamptonia was described by Walcott in his 1920 monograph on the sponges from the Burgess Shale. Rigby (1986) redescribed the genus, considering it to be closely related to Leptomitus and included it among the monaxial demosponges. Rigby and Collins (2004) described a new species, H. elongata, from material recently collected by the Royal Ontario Museum on Mount Field.



Hamptonia is a medium to large sub-hemispherical to globose sponge. The skeleton is composed of simple spicules of two sizes. Bundles or singly spaced long (up to 1 cm) coarse spicules are orientated vertically upwards away from the wall. The space between these large spicules is filled by bundle of small thatched spicules. There is a narrow central cavity and the oscular opening is circular. Faint canals are visible parallel to the long spicules that would have allowed water through the skeleton. Hamptonia may be confused with the central disc of Choia. However, Hamptonia has spicules that are much finer than Choia. H. elongata mainly differs from H. bowerbanki in that it has a branched skeleton.


Hamptonia bowerbanki represents only 0.09 % of the Walcott Quarry community (Caron and Jackson, 2008). Hamptonia elongata is known from a single specimen.

Maximum Size:
210 mm


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

Hamptonia would have lived attached to the sea floor. Particles of organic matter were extracted from the water as they passed through canals in the sponge’s wall.


BOTTING, J. P. 2007. ‘Cambrian’ demosponges in the Ordovician of Morocco: insights into the early evolutionary history of sponges. Geobios, 40: 737-748.

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: 105 p.

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): 155 p.

RIGBY, J. K., S. B. CHURCH AND N. K. ANDERSON. 2010. Middle Cambrian Sponges from the Drum Mountains and House Range in Western Utah. Journal of Paleontology, 84: 66-78.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1920. Middle Cambrian Spongiae. Cambrian Geology and Paleontology IV. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 67(6): 261-365.

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