The Burgess Shale

Scenella amii

A small enigmatic limpet-like animal

3D animation of Scenella amii.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Unranked clade (stem group molluscs)
Species name: Scenella amii

Scenella is generally classified as a monoplacophoran mollusc (Knight, 1952; Runnegar and Jell, 1976). A position possibly ancestral to brachiopods (Dzik, 2010), or within the Cnidaria, has also been proposed (Babcock and Robison, 1988; Yochelson and Gil Cid, 1984).

Described by: Matthew
Description date: 1902

Scenella – from the Greek word skene, “tent, or shelter,” in reference to its shape.

amii – after Marc Henri Ami from the Geological Survey of Canada.

Type Specimens: Holotype –ROM8048 in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: none

Other deposits: Dozens of species are known from the Lower Cambrian to the Lower Ordovician.

Age & Localities:

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

The Walcott and Raymond Quarries on Fossil Ridge. The Trilobite Beds and smaller localities on Mount Stephen.

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

The limpet-like appearance of Scenella led to its original classification as a mollusc, initially as a pteropod, then as a gastropod (Walcott, 1886). The first fossils of this genus known from the Burgess Shale were collected from the Trilobite Beds on Mount Stephen. These were described as Metoptoma amii by Matthew (1902), but Walcott (1908) considered other specimens from the same locality (and from the Walcott Quarry) to belong to Scenella varians, an earlier named species. Resser (1938) recognized that both species were identical and proposed a new combination, Scenella amii. In the same publication, Resser named a second species from the Trilobite Beds S. columbiana; this was based on a single specimen, originally recognized as a brachiopod with possible spines (Walcott, 1912), and remains highly dubious.



Each cone-shaped fossil has the form of a flat disc with a central peak, here termed “shell.” Concentric rings surround this peak, and sometimes the shell is also corrugated. The shells are stretched along one axis, making them elliptical rather than circular.

The fossils are often preserved in dense clusters and are usually oriented point-up.

No soft tissue is ever found associated with Scenella. The shell was evidently mineralized as indicated by the three-dimensional preservation and the presence of small cracks suggesting brittleness.


Hundreds of specimens of S. amii are known in the Walcott Quarry (2.27% of the community, Caron and Jackson, 2008). Many of these are found in dense clusters on single slabs.

Maximum Size:
10 mm


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

If a mollusc, Scenella would have been a creeping bottom-dweller, potentially a grazer.


BABCOCK, L. E. AND R. A. ROBISON. 1988. Taxonomy and paleobiology of some Middle Cambrian Scenella (Cnidaria) and hyolithids (Mollusca) from western North America. University of Kansas Paleontological Contributions, Paper, 121: 1-22.

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

DZIK, J. 2010. Brachiopod identity of the alleged monoplacophoran ancestors of cephalopods. Malacologia, 52:97-113.

KNIGHT, J. B. 1952. Primitive fossil gastropods and their bearing on gastropod evolution. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 117(13): 1–56.

MATTHEW, G. F. 1902. Notes on Cambrian Faunas: Cambrian Brachiopoda and Mollusca of Mt. Stephen, B.C. with the description of a new species of Metoptoma. Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 4:107-112.

RASETTI, F. 1954. Internal shell structures in the Middle Cambrian gastropod Scenella and the problematic genus Stenothecoides. Journal of Paleontology, 28: 59-66.

RESSER, C. E. 1938. Fourth contribution to nomenclature of Cambrian fossils. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 97:1-43.

Runnegar, B. AND P. A. JELL. 1976. Australian Middle Cambrian molluscs and their bearing on early molluscan evolution. Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology, 1(2): 109-138.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1886. Second contribution to the studies on the Cambrian faunas of North America. Bulletin of the United States Geological Survey, (30): 11-356.

WALCOTT, C. 1908. Mount Stephen rocks and fossils. Canadian Alpine Journal, 1: 232-248.

WALCOTT, C. 1912. Cambrian Brachiopoda. United States Geological Survey Monograph, 51: Part 1: 1-872, Part 872: 871-363.

YOCHELSON, E. L. AND D. GIL CID. 1984. Reevaluation of the systematic position of Scenella. Lethaia, 17: 331-340.

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