The Burgess Shale

Tokummia katalepsis

Large pincer-bearing bivalved arthropod

Tokummia katalepsis, paratype, ROMIP 63826


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Hymenocarines, Family Protocarididae (Miller 1889).
Species name: Tokummia katalepsis

Hymenocarines were early arthropods with bivalved carapaces and mandibles, forming the bulk of the first mandibulates (represented today by myriapods, crustaceans and insects) (Aria & Caron 2017; Vannier et al. 2018). Tokummia was a close relative of Branchiocaris, both grouped within the eponymous family Protocarididae Miller, 1889—one of the oldest formal taxa from the Burgess Shale. The relationship of Protocarididae within hymenocarines, as well as the relative placement of hymenocarines within early mandibulates is still under investigation (Aria 2022; Izquierdo-López & Caron 2022).

Described by: Aria and Caron
Description date: 2017

Tokummia — from Tokumm Creek, a river of the Kootenay area, in British Columbia, running through Marble Canyon, near the outcrop where the fossil was first found.

katalapsis — from the Greek, meaning “seizing, grasping,” by reference to the well-developed pincers of the animal.

Type Specimens: Holotype ROMIP 63823; paratypes ROMIP 63014, 63081, 63824–63827, 63736 (7 specimens), in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: none.
Other deposits: none.

Age & Localities:

Middle Cambrian, Wuliuan Stage, upper part of the Burgess Shale Formation (around 507 million years old).
Principal localities:

The Marble Canyon and Tokumm Creek areas of the Burgess Shale, British Columbia.

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

Tokummia was discovered during the original excavation of the Marble Canyon locality in 2012, along Yawunik and other taxa characteristic of this area. Additional specimens were later discovered during quarrying operations and along Tokumm Creek. Tokummia’s description was published in 2017: Tokummia’s size and quality of preservation helped identify mandibles and other diagnostic traits of mandibulates. Mandibles were also identified in Branchiocaris in the same study. This study partially rehabilitated original interpretations by Derek Briggs recognizing mandibulate affinities of Cambrian bivalved arthropods (hymenocarines) (Briggs 1992) but were not without their issues, notably that of the presence of an intercalary segment (e.g. Edgecombe 2017). However, research on hymenocarines has since been supportive of the mandibulate affinity of these arthropods (Vannier et al. 2018; Izquierdo-López & Caron 2022). Tokummia therefore remains central to our modern understanding of early arthropod evolution as a whole (Aria 2022).



Like other protocaridids, Tokummia’s long, tubular, multisegmented body is largely enclosed in a broad bivalved carapace with ample, lobate corners. Small processes are present medially at the front and rear of both valves. Eyes are very reduced or absent. The very front of the animal bears a bilobed organ covered by triangular sclerite. A pair of short, stout, multisegmented antennules are the most anterior appendages. The next pair of appendages are large, round mandibles, followed by modified appendages identified as maxillules and maxillae. The first pair of thoracic limbs are very large pincers projecting at the front of the animal, and therefore called maxillipeds. Trunk limbs are composed of well-developed walking legs ending in strong claws, and of lobate flaps that get much larger starting with trunk limb pair 9. There is a total of about 50 limb pairs in the trunk, one for each segment, which gradually decrease in size towards the back. Some tergites are fused at the back of the animal, forming a plate, and the tailpiece is a pair of caudal rami, typical of mandibulates.


The original description was based on 21 specimens (Aria & Caron 2017), but this count has so far doubled (Nanglu et al. 2020). Tokummia is a signature taxon of both the Marble Canyon quarry and the Tokumm sites.

Maximum Size:
About 15 cm.


Life habits: Nektobenthic
Feeding strategies: Carnivorous
Ecological Interpretations:

The combination of large pincers and strong walking appendages in Tokummia suggests it was a nektobenthic predator. However, as in Branchiocaris and Protocaris, the absence of distinct eyes in the fossils, implying they were either very reduced or absent, indicates that the predatory lifestyle of Tokummia and other Protocarididae had its own specificity. Protocaridids either relied more heavily on their other sensory organs or were perhaps more passive predators.


  • ARIA, C. 2022. The origin and early evolution of arthropods. Biological Reviews, 97, 1786–1809.
  • ARIA, C. and CARON, J. B. 2017. Burgess Shale fossils illustrate the origin of the mandibulate body plan. Nature, 545, 89–92.
  • BRIGGS, D. E. G. 1992. Phylogenetic significance of the Burgess Shale crustacean Canadaspis. Acta Zoologica, 73, 293–300.
  • EDGECOMBE, G. D. 2017. Palaeontology: The cause of jaws and claws. Current Biology, 27, R796–R815.
  • IZQUIERDO-LÓPEZ, A. and CARON, J.-B. 2022. The problematic Cambrian arthropod Tuzoia and the origin of mandibulates revisited. Royal Society Open Science, 9.
  • MILLER, S. A. 1889. North American geology and palaeontology for the use of amateurs, students and scientists. Western Methodist Book Concern, Cincinnati.
  • NANGLU, K., CARON, J.-B. and GAINES, R. R. 2020. The Burgess Shale paleocommunity with new insights from Marble Canyon, British Columbia. Paleobiology, 46, 58–81.
  • VANNIER, J., ARIA, C., TAYLOR, R. S. and CARON, J. B. 2018. Waptia fieldensis Walcott, a mandibulate arthropod from the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale. Royal Society Open Science, 5:172206.
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