The Burgess Shale

Siphusauctum gregarium

A strange tulip-like animal

Siphusauctum gregarium, ROMIP 61423


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Unknown
Higher Taxonomic assignment: None
Species name: Siphusauctum gregarium

Siphusauctum was originally compared to several fossil and living stalked animals, including ctenophores (O’Brien and Caron 2012). Despite some similarities, the authors ultimately rejected any close connections with any living or fossil groups, with the possible exception of Dinomischus, another enigmatic stemmed animal from the Burgess Shale (Conway Morris 1977) and China. More recently, Siphusauctum has been viewed as a possible stem-group ctenophore (Zhao et al. 2019).

Described by: O’Brien and Caron
Description date: 2012

Siphusauctum — from the Latin “siphus,” which means “cup or goblet,” and the Latin “auctus,” meaning large.

gregarium — from the Latin “gregalis,” which means “flock,” referring to large clusters of specimens recovered.

Type Specimens: Holotype ROMIP 61414; paratypes ROMIP 61413, 61415, 61421 in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: None
Other deposits: Siphusauctum lloydguntheri from the Spence Shale of Utah (Kimmig et al. 2017)

Age & Localities:

Middle Cambrian, Wuliuan stage, Burgess Shale Formation (around 507 million years old).
Principal localities:

Mount Stephen (Tulip Beds locality), British Columbia.

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

The Tulip Beds (initially known as “locality 8” (Collins et al. 1983) and later as “S7”(Fletcher and Collins 2003)) was discovered in 1983. It is not until a detailed overview of all material collected by ROM-led parties over multiple field seasons that a formal description of this species was published (O’Brien and Caron 2012), followed by a quantitative palaeocological study of the Tulip Beds.



This animal consists of three parts: a holdfast, a stem and a large calyx-shaped structure. The calyx-shaped structure is the most conspicuous part: it is composed of a continuous external sheath, perforated by the anus on top, and six holes at the bottom, and covers six comb-like internal elements arranged around a large central cavity. The comb-like elements are crescent-shaped, surrounded by a membrane with thin striae. Each comb-like element is composed of two sets of 30 transverse canals (or grooves) radiating on either side of a larger canal positioned abaxially. Following the anus, the body cavity encapsulates a digestive tract, which is composed of a narrow intestine and a wider zone, possibly representing the stomach, at the base of the tract and above a conical zone which connects to the stem. The stem is composed of an internal (inner) and external (outer) element. The inner stem connects directly to a bulbous or flat holdfast. At least one specimen suggests the presence of a tube between the stomach and the inner stem. The outer element ends sharply before the holdfast.


1,133 specimens, making it one of the most abundant species at the Tulip Beds (O’Brien and Caron 2016).

Maximum Size:
About 22 cm high.


Life habits: Sessile, Epibenthic
Feeding strategies: Suspension feeder
Ecological Interpretations:

The morphology and internal features of this animal strongly suggests it was a facultative stalked animal, living above the seafloor, and was an active filter feeder. The expansion and contraction of the calyx would have allowed the water and nutrients to circulate through the comb-like elements.


  • COLLINS, D., BRIGGS, D. E. G. and CONWAY MORRIS, S. 1983. New Burgess Shale fossil sites reveal Middle Cambrian faunal complex. Science, 222, 163-167.
  • CONWAY MORRIS, S. 1977. A new entoproct-like organism from the Burgess Shale of British Columbia. Palaeontology, 20, 833-845.
  • FLETCHER, T. P. and COLLINS, D. 2003. The Burgess Shale and associated Cambrian formations west of the Fossil Gully Fault Zone on Mount Stephen, British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 40, 1823-1838.
  • KIMMIG, J., STROTZ, L. C. and LIEBERMAN, B. S. 2017. The stalked filter feeder Siphusauctum lloydguntheri n. sp. from the middle Cambrian (Series 3, Stage 5) Spence Shale of Utah: its biological affinities and taphonomy. Journal of Paleontology, 91, 902-910.
  • O’BRIEN, L. J. and CARON, J.-B. 2012. A new stalked filter-feeder from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale, British Columbia, Canada. PLoS ONE, 7, e29233.
  • O’BRIEN, L. J. and CARON, J.-B. 2016. Paleocommunity Analysis of the Burgess Shale Tulip Beds, Mount Stephen, British Columbia: Comparison with the Walcott Quarry and Implications for Community Variation in the Burgess Shale. Paleobiology, 42, 27-53.
  • ZHAO, Y., VINTHER, J., PARRY, L. A., WEI, F., GREEN, E., PISANI, D., HOU, X., EDGECOMBE, G. D. and CONG, P. 2019. Cambrian sessile, suspension feeding stem-group ctenophores and evolution of the comb jelly body plan. Current Biology, 29, 1112-1125.e2.
Other Links: