The Burgess Shale

Wapkia grandis

Large elongate sponge with spicules arranged in plumose patterns

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



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Porifera
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Demospongia (Order: Monaxonida)
Species name: Wapkia grandis

Wapkia is considered a primitive demosponge (Rigby, 1986). Demosponges, the same group that are harvested as bath sponges, represent the largest class of sponges today.

Described by: Walcott
Description date: 1920

Wapkia – origin of name is unknown

grandis – from the Latin grandis, “large.” This name refers to the large size and complex skeleton of this sponge.

Type Specimens: Lectotype –USNM66458 (W. grandis), in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA. Holotype –ROM53544 (W. elongata), in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: W. elongata Rigby and Collins, 2004 from the Tulip Beds (S7) on Mount Stephen.

Other deposits: none.

Age & Localities:

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

The Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge. The Tulip Beds (S7) on Mount Stephen.

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

Wapkia was described by Walcott in his initial description of the Burgess Shale sponges in 1920. The genus was re-examined by Rigby in 1986. Rigby and Collins (2004) also redescribed the genus and proposed a new species, W. elongata.



Wapkia is a large elongate or oval sponge with bundles of coarse and fine spicules aligned in long vertical columns and distinct horizontal bundles. The surface of the sponge is smooth and lacks any vertical or horizontal ridges. Spicules are straight and pointed at both ends (oxeas). The exact position of the various bundles of spicules in the skeleton is still uncertain, but it seems that the inner part of the skeleton is reticulate with horizontal wrinkles that are typical of the species and produced by horizontal bundles of spicules. The dermal layer is formed by bundles of oxeas up to 60 mm long which give a characteristic plumose aspect to this sponge. W. elongata is distinguished from W. grandis based on the overall shape of the sponge and different skeletal structures (varying distance between the horizontal spicule bundles).


Wapkia is rare and represents only 0.06% of the Walcott Quarry community (Caron and Jackson, 2008).

Maximum Size:
170 mm


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

Wapkia 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. 1986. Sponges of the Burgess shale (Middle Cambrian), British Columbia. Palaeontographica Canadiana, 2: 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.

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

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