The Burgess Shale

Vauxia gracilenta

A common group of sponges with distinct bush-like forms

3D animation of Vauxia bellula and other sponges (Choia ridleyiDiagoniella cyathiformisEiffelia globosaHazelia confertaPirania muricata, and Wapkia elongata) and Chancelloria eros a sponge-like form covered of star-shaped spines.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Porifera
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Demospongea (Order: Verongida)
Species name: Vauxia gracilenta

Vauxia was placed within the hexactinellids by Walcott in his 1920 original description but Rigby (1980) transferred the genus and family to the Demospongea. Demosponges, the same group that are harvested as bath sponges, represent the largest class of sponges today.

Described by: Walcott
Description date: 1920

Vauxia – from Mount Vaux (3,319 m), a mountain Peak in Yoho National Park, British Columbia. The name refers to William Sandys Wright Vaux (1818-1885) an antiquarian at the British Museum.

gracilenta – from the Latin gracilis, “slender,” referring to the delicate structure of the sponge.

Type Specimens: Lectotypes –USNM66515 (V. gracilenta),USNM66508 (V. bellula),USNM66517 (V. densa),USNM66520 (V. venata), in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA. Holotype –ROM53572 (V. irregulara) in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: V. bellula Walcott, 1920; V. densa Walcott, 1920; V. irregulara Rigby and Collins, 2004; V. venata Walcott, 1920.

Other deposits: none.

Age & Localities:

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

Burgess Shale and vicinity: Vauxia species are known in the Walcott, Raymond and Collins Quarries on Fossil Ridge, the Trilobite Beds, Tulip Beds (S7) and the Collins Quarry on Mount Stephen, and smaller sites on Mount Field and Odaray Mountain. Vauxia is also known from Monarch in Kootenay National Park.

Other deposits: V. bellula Walcott, 1920 from the Middle Cambrian Wheeler and Marjum Formations in Utah (Rigby et al., 2010); V. magna Rigby, 1980 from the Middle Cambrian Spence Shale in Utah (Rigby, 1980).

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

This sponge was originally described by Walcott in 1920. The genus was reviewed by Rigby (1980) and the species redescribed by Rigby (1986) and Rigby and Collins (2004) in their examination of the Burgess Shale sponges.



Specimens of Vauxia gracilenta can range from simple unbranched forms to more complex branching forms and reach up to 8 cm in height. Each branch is deeply conical and almost cylindrical, with a simple open central cavity (spongocoel) ending in a rounded of flat opening (osculum). The skeleton is double layered with a thin dermal layer and an inner layer (endosomal). The dermal layer has small openings (ostia) and is composed of a dense network of ladder-like fibers supported by radial fibers from the inner layer. The inner layer forms a regular reticulated net-like skeleton of fibers with 4-6 sided polygons which is characteristic of the genus and species. The fibrous elements (spongin) represent tough collagen proteins. There is no evidence of siliceous spicules in the skeleton.

The different species have been identified mostly based on variations of the skeletal elements and the shape of the branches. Some species can reach up to at least 15 cm in height (V. bellulaV. densa).


Vauxia is relatively common in the Raymond Quarry and other sites on Mount Stephen but is rare in the Walcott Quarry where it represents less than 0.05% of the community (Caron and Jackson, 2008).

Maximum Size:
80 mm


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

Vauxia would have lived attached to the sea floor. Particles of organic matter were extracted from the water as they passed through canals in the sponge’s wall.


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

RIGBY, J. K. 1980. The new Middle Cambrian sponge Vauxia magna from the Spence Shale of Northern Utah and taxonomic position of the Vauxiidae. Journal of Paleontology, 54(1): 234-240.

RIGBY, J. K. 1986. Sponges of the Burgess Shale (Middle Cambrian), British Columbia. Palaeontographica Canadiana, 2: 1-105 p.

RIGBY, J. K. AND D. COLLINS. 2004. Sponges of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale and Stephen Formations, British Columbia. Royal Ontario Museum Contributions in Science (1): 155 p.

RIGBY, J. K., S. B. CHURCH AND N. K. ANDERSON. 2010. Middle Cambrian Sponges from the Drum Mountains and House Range in Western Utah. Journal of Paleontology, 84: 66-78.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1920. Middle Cambrian Spongiae. Cambrian Geology and Paleontology IV. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 67(6): 261-365.

Other Links: