The Burgess Shale

Skania fragilis

A tiny kite-shaped arthropod

Skania fragilis (ROM 60752) – Part and counterpart (first and second rows). Complete specimen showing antennae. Specimen length = 11 mm. Specimen dry – polarized light (left column) and wet (right column). Raymond Quarry.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Unranked clade (stem group arthropods)
Species name: Skania fragilis

The affinity of Skania is controversial, but most agree it is related to the arthropods. It is similar to Primicaris (Lin et al., 2006; Zhang et al., 2007), and both taxa have been compared to soft-bodied trilobites like Naraoia (Walcott, 1931; Zhang et al., 2007; Hou and Bergström, 1997). Other researchers suggest these taxa are related to the enigmatic Ediacaran taxon Parvancorina (Delle Cave and Simonetta, 1975; Gehling, 1991; Conway Morris, 1993; Simonetta and Insom, 1993), with all three taxa forming a clade in sister group position relative to the trilobites (Lin et al., 2006).

Described by: Walcott
Description date: 1931

Skania – from Skana, the name of a glacier near Mount Robson, British Columbia, Canada.

fragilis – from the Latin fragilis, “brittle,” referring to the delicate nature and small size of the animal.

Type Specimens: Holotype –USNM83950 in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: none.

Other deposits: Skania sundbergi Lin et al. 2006 from the Kaili Formation, China.

Age & Localities:

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

The Walcott and Raymond Quarries on Fossil Ridge.

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

Skania fragilis was first described by Walcott (1931) in a posthumous monograph published by his assistant Charles Resser. Resser compared Skania to the trilobites and Naraoia. However in a redescription by Delle Cave and Simonetta (1975), it was suggested instead that Skania was closely related to the Ediacaran taxon Parvancorina minchami Glaessner 1958. This affinity has been much discussed (Gehling, 1991; Conway Morris, 1993; Simonetta and Insom, 1993; Lin et al. 2006), and Skania has also been compared extensively with Primicaris Zhang et al. 2003. Skania and Primicaris have also been interpreted as juveniles (protaspides) of naraoiids (Hou and Bergström, 1997).



Skania has a single, undifferentiated, soft dorsal shield that is roughly kite-shaped. The dorsal shield is rounded at the front of the head, and tapers towards the posterior of the body, ending in a pair of short margin spines at the posterior end. At the point of maximum width there are sharp genal spines directed posteriorly. The posterior margin of the head is delineated by a narrow rim that is strongly arched forward, with the cephalic region occupying one-quarter of the exoskeletal length. A midgut is preserved in the axial region of the body trunk. Appendages are poorly preserved but consist of a pair of anterior antennae and ten or more paired body limbs.


Skania fragilis is known from fewer than 40 specimens in total.

Maximum Size:
17 mm


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

The ecology of Skania is poorly known because the details of its morphology remain enigmatic. The form of the appendages is assumed to be biramous based on the overall similarity with Primicaris, which possesses biramous appendages, meaning that both animals may have walked on the seafloor, using their filamentous appendages for oxygen exchange and occasional swimming. Skania lacks eyes, so it likely used its antennae to sense the environment. The feeding strategy is unknown.


CONWAY MORRIS, S. 1993. Ediacaran-like fossil in Cambrian Burgess Shale-type faunas of North America. Palaeontology, 36: 593-635.

DELLE CAVE, L. AND A. M. SIMONETTA. 1975. Notes on the morphology and taxonomic position of Aysheaia (Onycophora?) and of Skania (undetermined phylum). Monitore Zoologico Italiano New Series, 9: 67-81.

GEHLING, J. G. 1991. The case for Ediacaran fossil roots to the metazoan tree, p. 181-223. In B. P. Radhakrishna (ed.), The world of Martin F. Glaessner. Geological Society of India, Bangalore.

HOU, X. AND J. BERGSTRÖM. 1997. Arthropods of the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang fauna, southwest China. Fossils and Strata, 45: 1-116.

LIN, J., S. M. GON III, J. G. GEHLING, L. E. BABCOCK, Y. ZHAO, X. ZHANG, S. HU, J. YUAN M. YU AND J. PENG. 2006. A Parvancorina-like arthropod from the Cambrian of South China. Historical Biology, 18: 33-45.

SIMONETTA, A. M. AND E. INSOM. 1993. New animals from the Burgess Shale (Middle Cambrian) and their possible significance for the understanding of the Bilateria. Bolletino di Zoologia, 60: 97-107.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1931. Addenda to descriptions of Burgess Shale fossils. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 85: 1-46.

ZHANG, X., D. SHU AND D. H. ERWIN. 2007. Cambrian naraoiids (Arthropoda): morphology, ontogeny, systematics, and evolutionary relationships. Palaeontological Society Memoir, 68: 1-52.

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