The Burgess Shale

Morania confluens

A common sheath-like cyanobacteria

3D animation of Morania confluens (being grazed by Wiwaxia corrugata).



Kingdom: Eubacteria
Phylum: Cyanobacteria
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Cyanophyceae (Order: Nostocales?)
Species name: Morania confluens

Walcott (1919) considered Morania to be related to the modern cyanobacteria Nostoc. No revisions to the affinities of this cyanobacterium have been published since.

Described by: Walcott
Description date: 1919

Morania – from Moraine Lake (1,885 m), in Banff National Park.

confluens – from the Latin fluere, “flow or stream,” and the prefix con, “together.” The name refers to the abundance of this species.

Type Specimens: Syntypes–USNM35378-35390, 35398 (M. confluens); USMN 35391, 35392 (M. costellifera);USNM35393 (M. elongata);USNM35394 (M. fragmenta);USNM35395 – 35397, 35401 (M.? globosa);USNM57718 (M. parasitica);USNM35402 (M.? reticulata) in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: M. costellifera Walcott, 1919; M. elongata Walcott, 1919; M. fragmenta Walcott, 1919; M.? globosa Walcott, 1919; M. parasitica Walcott, 1919; M.? reticulata Walcott, 1919, all from the Walcott Quarry.

Other deposits: M.? antiqua Fenton and Fenton, 1937 from the middle Proterozoic Altyn Limestone of Montana and the Little Dal Group, Mackenzie Mountains (see Hofmann and Aitken, 1979).

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:

Walcott described Morania, erecting eight species, in a 1919 paper along with Burgess Shale algae, comparing the genus to the extant cyanobacteria Nostoc. Walcott included thin sections and details of the microstructures of M. confluens showing that it was formed of tangled strings of pyrite. Satterthwait (1976) studied specimens of M. confluens from the Geological Survey of Canada collections as part of her PhD thesis and broadly agreed with Walcott’s original interpretations, in particular regarding a position within the Nostocaceae. Sattertwhait’s work has not been published but she suggested that many species erected by Walcott might not be valid and could represent parts of more complex algae. Mankiewicz (1992) re-observed Walcott’s thin sections and confirmed the presence of Morania in several samples. Rigby (1986) identified M.? frondosa Walcott 1919, as a sponge and reassigned it to a new genus (see Crumillospongia frondosa).



Morania ranges in shape from spherical to sheet-like. The sheet-like form M. confluens is by far the most common species. Specimens typically range in length between 1 to more than 13 centimeters. The sheets are characteristically perforated, with holes up to 3 centimeters in diameter. The shape, size, number and distribution of holes are highly variable. Thin sections show that the microstructure of M. confluens is represented by a tangle mass of filaments called trichomes. These filaments have a beadlike structure with little spheroids of pyrite ranging 3 to 7 micrometers in diameter, and originally interpreted by Walcott as defining cellular structures.


Estimating the abundance of Morania is difficult since some bedding planes have large tangled masses of this cyanobacterium, and many could represent fragments of the same colony. Morania is very common in the Walcott Quarry and represents 4.9% of the community (Caron and Jackson, 2008).

Maximum Size:
130 mm


Life habits: Epibenthic, Sessile
Feeding strategies: Primary producer
Ecological Interpretations:

Caron and Jackson (2006) suggested that Morania covered large areas of the benthos and might have provided a stable substrate and food source for benthic animals, in particular for a number of grazers, like Odontogriphus and Wiwaxia.


CARON, J.-B. AND D. A. JACKSON. 2006. Taphonomy of the Greater Phyllopod Bed Community, Burgess Shale. Palaios, 21: 451-465.

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

HOFMANN, H. J. AND J. D. AITKEN. 1979. Precambrian biota from the Little Dal Group, Mackenzie Mountains, northwestern Canada. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 16: 150-166.

MANKIEWICZ, C. 1992. Obruchevella and other microfossils in the Burgess Shale: preservation and affinity. Journal of Paleontology, 66(5): 717-729.

SATTERTHWAIT, D. F. 1976. Paleobiology and Paleoecology of Middle Cambrian Algae from Western North America. Unpublished PhD thesis, California, Los Angeles, 120 p.

WALCOTT, C. 1919. Cambrian Geology and Paleontology IV. Middle Cambrian Algae. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 67(5): 217-260.

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