The Burgess Shale

Hazelia palmata

A very common sponge

3D animation of Hazelia conferta and other sponges (Choia ridleyi, Diagoniella cyathiformis, Eiffelia globosa, Pirania muricata, Vauxia bellula, and Wapkia elongata) and 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: Demospongea (Order: Monaxonida)
Species name: Hazelia palmata

Hazelia is considered a primitive demosponge, close to Falospongia and Crumillospongia (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

Hazelia – from Hazel Peak (3,151 m), the older name for Mount Aberdeen, located 4 km SSW of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta. Mount Aberdeen was named in honor of Lord Gordon in 1897, the Marquis of Aberdeen and the Governor General of Canada from 1893 to 1898.

palmata – from the Latin palm, “palm of the hand,” referring to the broad cup-shape of this sponge and its resemblance to a cupped hand.

Type Specimens: Lectotypes – USNM 66463 (H. palmata – type species), 66465 (H. delicatula), USNM 66505 (H. dignata), USNM 66473 (H. grandis), USNM 66474 (H. nodulifera), USNM 66472 (H. obscura); Holotypes – USNM 66476 (H. conferta), USNM 66779 (H. crateria), USNM 66475 (H. luteria) in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA. Holotype –ROM53573 (H. lobata) in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: H. conferta Walcott, 1920, H. crateria Rigby, 1986, H. delicatula Walcott, 1920, H. dignata Walcott, 1920, H. grandis Walcott, 1920, H. lobata Rigby and Collins, 2004, H. luteria Rigby, 1986, H. nodulifera Walcott, 1920, H. obscura Walcott, 1920. Most species known from the Walcott Quarry (See Rigby, 1986 and Rigby and Collins, 2004).

Other deposits: H. walcotti (Resser and Howell, 1938) from the Early Cambrian Kinzers Formation of Pennsylvania (See Rigby, 1987).

Age & Localities:

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

Burgess Shale and vicinity: Hazelia is particularly common in the Walcott Quarry and is less common in the Raymond and Collins Quarries on Fossil Ridge. Many species also occur on Mount Stephen at the Trilobite Beds, Tulip Beds (S7), and other smaller localities.

Other deposits: H. palmata Walcott, 1920 from the Middle Cambrian Marjum Formation (Rigby et al., 1997).

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

Walcott described seven species of Hazelia in his 1920 paper on the Burgess Shale sponges. The genus was redescribed by Rigby in 1986 when two new species were added and one excluded from the genus (H. mammillata now referred to Moleculospina mammillata). Rigby and Collins (2004) added another species based on new material collected by the Royal Ontario Museum.



Species of Hazelia have a large variation in morphology with wide cup-shaped forms (H. palmata, H. crateria, H. luteria), long cone-shaped forms (H. conferta, H. grandis, H. obscura), branched forms (H. delicatula, H. dignata), and nodular to lobate forms (H. lobata, H. nodulifera). While there is this significant variety of overall shapes, the different species of Hazelia have a common microstructure. The walls are thin and composed of small tightly packed simple spicules that form a net-like structure and diverge outwards producing a plumose pattern. The walls are perforated with small canals to allow water flow. The base of each sponge would have had a small attachment structure.

In addition to its open shield-like shape, H. palmata possesses distinct radial tracts of spicules which go beyond the margins of the sponge for at least a couple of millimeters.


Hazelia is very common in the Walcott Quarry and represents 9.5% of the community (Caron and Jackson, 2008).

Maximum Size:
150 mm


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

Hazelia 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.


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. 1987. Early Cambrian sponges from Vermont and Pennsylvania, the only ones described from North America. Journal of Paleontology, 61: 451-461.

RIGBY, J. K. L. F. GUNTHER AND F. GUNTHER. 1997. The first occurrence of the Burgess Shale Demosponge Hazelia palmata Walcott, 1920, in the Cambrian of Utah. Journal of Paleontology, 71: 994-997.

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.

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

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