The Burgess Shale

Scolecofurca rara

A worm with a fork-like front end

Scolecofurca rara (GSC 45331) – Holotype (part and counterpart). Only known specimen of the species showing the pair tentacles in direct light (anterior to the right). Specimen length = 65 mm. Specimen wet – direct light (top), dry – polarized light (middle and bottom). Raymond Quarry.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Priapulida
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Unranked clade (stem group priapulids)
Species name: Scolecofurca rara

Scolecofurca belongs to the priapulid worm stem group (Harvey et al., 2010; Wills, 1998).

Described by: Conway Morris
Description date: 1977

Scolecofurca – from the Greek skolex, meaning “worm,” and the Latin furca, “fork,” in reference to the fork-like anterior of this worm.

rara – from the Latin rarus, “infrequent,” in reference to the rarity of the species.

Type Specimens: Holotype – GSC45331 in the Geological Survey of Canada, Ottawa, Canada.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: none.

Other deposits: none.

Age & Localities:

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

The Raymond Quarry on Fossil Ridge.

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

This worm was described by Conway Morris in 1977 as a possible primitive priapulid. Later analyses showed that S. rara belongs to the priapulid stem group (Harvey et al., 2010; Wills, 1998).



Scolecofurca is known from a single incomplete specimen, which is estimated to have reached nine centimeters in total length. Like other priapulids, the body is divided into a proboscis and a trunk. The proboscis is fringed with small extensions called papillae, and tipped with a pair of conspicuous tentacles giving the appearance of a two-pronged fork. The trunk is annulated and the gut appears to be represented by a simple tube. Contrary to all the other species of priapulids from the Burgess Shale, this form does not have spines or hooks on the proboscis or body.


This species is known from a single specimen.

Maximum Size:
90 mm


Life habits: Endobenthic, Mobile
Feeding strategies: Unknown
Ecological Interpretations:

The general body-shape and presence of a proboscis suggests Scolecofurca was a burrower. The tentacles might have had a sensory function rather than being used for prey manipulation, but the mode of feeding of this species is unknown.


CONWAY MORRIS, S. 1977. Fossil priapulid worms. Special Papers in Palaeontology, 20: 1-95.

HARVEY, T. H. P., X. DONG AND P. C. J. DONOGHUE. 2010. Are palaeoscolecids ancestral ecdysozoans? Evolution & Development, 12(2): 177-200.

WILLS, M. A. 1998. Cambrian and Recent disparity: the picture from priapulids. Paleobiology, 24(2): 177-199.

Other Links: