The Burgess Shale

Yohoia tenuis

A small, carnivorous arthropod with great appendages

3D animation of Yohoia tenuis.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Unranked clade Megacheira? (stem group arthropods)
Species name: Yohoia tenuis

Yohoia was originally considered to be a branchiopod crustacean (Walcott, 1912; Simonetta, 1970), but was also described as being closely related to the chelicerates (Briggs and Fortey, 1989; Wills et al., 1998; Cotton and Braddy, 2004). Other analyses suggest that Yohoia belongs in the group of “great appendage” arthropods, the Megacheira, together with LeanchoiliaAlalcomenaeus and Isoxys (Hou and Bergström, 1997; Budd, 2002). The megacheirans have been suggested to either be stem-lineage chelicerates (Chen et al. 2004; Edgecombe, 2010), or stem-lineage euarthropods (Budd, 2002).

Described by: Walcott
Description date: 1912

Yohoia – from the Yoho River, Lake, Pass, Glacier, Peak (2,760 m) and Park, British Columbia, Canada. “Yoho” is a Cree word expressing astonishment.

tenuis – from the Latin tenuis, “thin,” referring to its slender body.

Type Specimens: Lectoype –USNM57699 in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: none.

Other deposits: none.

Age & Localities:

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

The Walcott, Raymond and Collins Quarries on Fossil Ridge.

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

Yohoia was first described by Walcott (1912), who designated the type species Y. tenuis based on six specimens, and a second species, Y. plena, based on one specimen. Additional specimens of Y. tenuis were described by Simonetta (1970), and a major redescription of Yohoia tenuis was then undertaken by Whittington (1974), based on over 400 specimens of this species. Whittington (1974) invalidated Y. plena, upgrading it to its own genus, Plenocaris plena, leaving Y. tenuis as the only species of YohoiaYohoia has since been included in several studies on arthropod phylogeny and evolution (e.g., Briggs and Fortey, 1989; Hou and Bergström, 1997; Wills et al., 1998; Budd, 2002; Chen et al., 2004; Cotton and Braddy, 2004).



The body of Yohoia consists of a head region encapsulated in a cephalic shield and 14 body segments, ending in a paddle-shaped telson. The dorsal head shield is roughly square and extends over the dorsal and lateral regions of the head. There is a pair of great appendages at the front of the head. Each appendage consists of two long, thin segments that bend like an elbow at their articulation, with four long spines at the tip. Three pairs of long, thin, segmented appendages project from beneath the head shield behind the great appendages.

The body behind the head consists of ten segments with tough plates, or tergites, that extend over the back and down the side of the animal, ending in backward-facing triangular points. The first of these body segments may have an appendage that is segmented and branches into two (biramous), with a segmented walking limb bearing a flap-like extension. The following nine body segments have only simple flap-shaped appendages fringed with short spines or setae. The next three body segments have no appendages, and the telson is a paddle-shaped plate with distal spines.


Over 700 specimens of Yohoia are known from the Walcott Quarry, comprising 1.3% of the specimens counted (Caron and Jackson, 2008) but only few specimens are known from the Raymond and Collins Quarries.

Maximum Size:
23 mm


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

Yohoia is thought to have used its three pairs of cephalic appendages, and possibly the biramous limb on the first body segment, to walk on the sea floor. The animal could also swim by waving the flap-like appendage on the body trunk. The setae on these appendages may have been used for respiration. The pair of frontal appendages were likely used to capture prey or scavenge food particles from the sea floor.


BRIGGS, D. E. G. AND R. A. FORTEY. 1989. The early radiation and relationships of the major arthropod groups. Science, 246: 241-243.

BUDD, G. E. 2002. A palaeontological solution to the arthropod head problem. Nature, 417: 271-275.

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

CHEN, J. Y., D. WALOSZEK AND A. MAAS. 2004. A new ‘great-appendage’ arthropod from the Lower Cambrian of China and homology of chelicerate chelicerae and raptorial antero-ventral appendages. Lethaia, 37: 3-20.

COTTON, T. J. AND S. J. BRADDY. 2004. The phylogeny of arachnomorph arthropods and the origin of the Chelicerata. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences, 94: 169-193.

EDGECOMBE, G. D. 2010. Arthropod phylogeny: An overview from the perspectives of morphology, molecular data and the fossil record. Arthropod Structure and Development, 39: 74-87.

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

SIMONETTA, A. M. 1970. Studies on non trilobite arthropods of the Burgess Shale (Middle Cambrian). Palaeontographia Italica, 66 (New series 36): 35-45.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1912. Cambrian Geology and Paleontology II. Middle Cambrian Branchiopoda, Malacostraca, Trilobita and Merostomata. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 57(6): 145-228.

WHITTINGTON, H. B. 1974. Yohoia Walcott and Plenocaris n. gen. arthropods from the Burges

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