The Burgess Shale

Ptychagnostus praecurrens

Tiny “blind” trilobite

Ptychagnostus praecurrens (USNM 116212). Complete individual originally interpreted as the holotype of Triplagnostus burgessensis by Rasetti (1951). Specimen length = 8 mm. Specimen dry – direct light. Walcott Quarry.

© Smithsonian Institution – National Museum of Natural History. Photo: Jean-Bernard Caron


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Trilobita (Order: Agnostida)
Species name: Ptychagnostus praecurrens

Trilobites are extinct euarthropods, probably stem lineage representatives of the Mandibulata, which includes crustaceans, myriapods, and hexapods (Scholtz and Edgecombe, 2006).

Described by: Westergård
Description date: 1936

Ptychagnostus – from the Greek ptycho, “pleated” (some species have pleat-like furrows on the cephalon), and agnostos, for “unknown” or “unknowable.”

praecurrens – from the Latin prae, “before,” and currens, “to run,” in reference to the old age of this fossil

Type Specimens: Holotype – SGU611; in the Geological Survey of Sweden (Sveriges geologiska undersökning – SGU), Uppsala, Sweden (Westergård, 1936)
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: none.

Other deposits: other species occur throughout the world in Middle Cambrian rocks.

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:

Trilobites currently assigned to this genus and species have been described under several name combinations. Originally, Rasetti (1951) described it as Triplagnostus burgessensis, but subsequently (Rasetti, 1967) considered T. burgessensis to be a synonym of Ptychagnostus praecurrens (Westergård, 1936), a name retained by Peng and Robison (2000), despite numerous interim variations.



Hard parts: adult dorsal exoskeletons reach about 8 mm in length. The semicircular cephalon has a narrow marginal rim around the front and sides and sharply rounded the genal angles. There are no dorsal eyes and no facial sutures. The narrow glabella comes to an ogival point, with a median furrow extending across the short preglabellar field to the anterior margin; a transverse furrow crosses the glabella just in front of a low tubercle located behind the midpoint. Two short thoracic segments carry lateral nodes on the axial rings. A narrowly rimmed pygidium, the same size and general shape as the cephalon, has abruptly angled anterolateral corners. The pygidial axis is broader than the glabella, but of similar outline, with a median tubercle between two transverse furrows. The pointed tip of the axis reaches almost to the rim posteriorly, without a median furrow.

Unmineralized anatomy: not known


Very common in the Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge, where it is the most abundant trilobite (Caron and Jackson, 2008).

Maximum Size:
10 mm


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

Adult agnostine trilobites have often been regarded as pelagic organisms that swam or drifted in the water column. Evidence now suggests that most were members of the mobile benthic epifauna, possibly micrograzers or particle feeders, preferentially occupying colder, deeper, offshore waters.


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

PENG, S. C. AND ROBISON, R. A. 2000. Agnostoid biostratigraphy across the middle-upper Cambrian boundary in Hunan, China. Paleontological Society Memoir, no. 53 (supplement to Journal of Paleontology), 74(4), 104 pp.

RASETTI, F. 1951. Middle Cambrian stratigraphy and faunas of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 116(5): 277 pp.

RASETTI, F. 1967. Lower and Middle Cambrian trilobite faunas from the Taconic Sequence of New York. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 152(4): 112 pp.

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.

WESTERGÅRD, A. H. 1936. Paradoxides oelandicus beds of Oland: with the account of a diamond boring through the Cambrian at Mossberga. Sveriges Geologiska Undersökning. Series C, no. 394, Årsbok 30, no. 1: 1-66.

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