The Burgess Shale

Image of Pakucaris apatis fossil.

Pakucaris apatis

Small bivalved arthropod with a shielded tail

Pakucaris apatis, holotype ROMIP 65739


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Hymenocarines, Family: Odaraiidae
Species name: Pakucaris apatis

Hymenocarines were early arthropods with bivalved carapaces and mandibles, forming the bulk of the first mandibulates (represented today by myriapods, crustaceans and insects) (Aria and Caron 2017; Vannier et al. 2018). In many hymenocarines, including Pakucaris, determining the exact number and types of appendages in their head remains difficult, which hinders a detailed understanding of the evolutionary relationships inside this group. Pakucaris most probably belongs to the family Odaraiidae, a group of hymenocarines with highly multisegmented bodies, reduced or absent antennae and highly multisegmented legs.

Described by: Izquierdo-López & Caron
Description date: 2021

Pakucaris – from the Japanese onomatopoeia paku, suggestive of ‘eating’, related to the video game character Pac-Man, due to the naked eye resemblance of the carapace and shield of Pakucaris to the shape of the character. Latin caris, meaning “crab” or “shrimp”, and

apatis – from the goddess of deception in Greek mythology Apate, in reference to the resemblance of Pakucaris to a trilobite.

Type Specimens: Holotype ROMIP65739
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: None
Other deposits: None

Age & Localities:

Middle Cambrian, Wuliuan Stage, upper part of the Burgess Shale Formation (around 507 million years old)
Principal localities:

Marble Canyon, Tokumm Creek

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

The holotype of Pakucaris apatis was first discovered during the 2012 expedition to the Marble Canyon site of the Burgess Shale. A few other specimens were discovered during the following 2014 and 2016 expeditions and classified as “New arthropod E” (Nanglu et al. 2020). The 2018 expedition at the Tokumm Creek site uncovered one additional specimen. The first description of Pakucaris apatis was published in 2021 in the journal Papers in Paleontology (Izquierdo-López and Caron, 2021). Several other authors have noted the similarity between the shield of Pakucaris and pygidia (O’Flynn et al. 2022). A pygidium is a structure in which the most posterior segments of an arthropod become fused, usually into a shield. The pygidium is typically found in trilobites, but also across many other groups in the Cambrian, suggesting that this structure appeared multiple times independently.



Pakucaris has two morphotypes: a small one (around 1 cm) with its body subdivided into 30-35 segments, and a larger one (around 2.5 cm), with its body subdivided into 70-80 segments. The carapace of Pakucaris covers up to two-thirds of the total body length. It has a dome-like shape with a small dorsal crest that runs across its entire length. The carapace bends towards the front, extending into a small process (rostrum). Similarly, the lateral sides of the carapace also extend frontally into small lateral processes. The head has one pair of pedunculate eyes, one pair of thin small appendages, and at least one pair of larger segmented antennae. The small thin appendages are not segmented and represent a sensorial organ known as frontal filaments. The first antennae (also termed antennules) have 7 to 8 segments, with each segment bearing a small spine. Each segment of the body bears one pair of limbs, each subdivided into two branches (biramous): a walking leg (endopod) and a paddle-like flap (exopod). The endopod is thin and is subdivided into at least 20-21 segments. The exopod has an ovoid, flattened shape and is as long as half the endopod. The posterior section of the body has a shield-like structure. This shield is formed by the fusion and lateral extensions of the segments. The shield bears around 10 big spines on each of its lateral sides, as well as a series of smaller spines on its posterior side.


Pakucaris is rare, only known from eight specimens from the Marble Canyon and Tokumm Creek sites. The bigger morphotype is only known from one specimen.

Maximum Size:
About 2.5 cm


Life habits: Mobile, Epibenthic, Nektobenthic
Feeding strategies: Deposit feeder, Suspension feeder
Ecological Interpretations:

Pakucaris was probably a nektobenthic animal living close to the benthos (Izquierdo-López and Caron 2021). It may have used its antennae with spines to scrape rocks or other objects and may have also used its paddle-like exopods to create currents and capture organic particles, aided by its antennae and other head appendages. The tail shield (or pygidium) of Pakucaris was most probably a structure to protect against predators. The two morphotypes of Pakucaris may represent different growth stages of males and females, but the number of specimens available to date is too limited to reach a conclusion.


  • ARIA, C. and CARON, J. B. 2017. Burgess Shale fossils illustrate the origin of the mandibulate body plan. Nature, 545: 89–92.
  • IZQUIERDO-LÓPEZ, A. and CARON, J. B. 2021. A Burgess Shale mandibulate arthropod with a pygidium: a case of convergent evolution. Papers in Palaeontology, 7: 1877–1894.
  • NANGLU, K., CARON, J. and GAINES, R. 2020. The Burgess Shale paleocommunity with new insights from Marble Canyon, British Columbia. Paleobiology, 46(1): 58–81.
  • O’FLYNN, R. J., WILLIAMS, M., YU, M., HARVEY, T. and LIU, Y. 2022. A new euarthropod with large frontal appendages from the early Cambrian Chengjiang biota. Palaeontologia Electronica, 25(1):a6: 1–21.
  • VANNIER, J., ARIA, C., TAYLOR, R. S. and CARON, J. B. 2018. Waptia fieldensis Walcott, a mandibulate arthropod from the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale. Royal Society Open Science, 5:172206.
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