The Burgess Shale

Zacanthoides romingeri

A spiny Mount Stephen trilobite

Zacanthoides romingeri (figure 3) illustrated by Rominger (1887) as Embolimus spinosa.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Higher Taxonomic assignment: Trilobita (Order: Corynexochida)
Species name: Zacanthoides romingeri

Trilobites are extinct euarthropods, probably stem lineage representatives of the Mandibulata, which includes crustaceans, myriapods, and hexapods (Scholtz and Edgecombe, 2006).

Described by: Rominger
Description date: 1887

Zacanthoides – probably from the Greek z(a), “very,” and akanthion, “thistle” or “porcupine” or “hedgehog,” and oides, “resembling;” thus, very thistle- or porcupine-like.

romingeri – after Carl Rominger, a Michigan paleontologist who in 1887 published the first descriptions of trilobites from Mount Stephen.

Type Specimens: Type status under review – UMMP 4871 (2 specimens), University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
Other species:

Burgess Shale and vicinity: Zacanthoides sexdentatus, Z. submuticus, Z. longipygus, Z. planifrons, Z. divergens, all from older and younger Middle Cambrian rocks on Mount Stephen, Mount Odaray, and Park Mountain (Rasetti, 1951).

Other deposits: other species elsewhere in North America.

Age & Localities:

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

The Trilobite Beds on Mount Stephen.

History of Research:

Brief history of research:

In 1887 Carl Rominger published an engraving of a nearly complete and markedly spiny trilobite and named it Embolimus spinosa. In 1908 Charles Walcott introduced the combination Zacanthoides spinosus for the Mount Stephen species and for a similar trilobite from Nevada. The next change came in 1942, when Charles Resser at the United States National Museum asserted that the Mount Stephen species was sufficiently distinct that it required a new name. Resser chose to honour the man who first formally described many of the common Mount Stephen trilobites, and Zacanthoides romingeri remains the combination in use today.



Hard parts: adult dorsal exoskeletons can reach up to 6 cm in length, tapering back from a large crescentic cephalon through a thorax of nine segments, to a relatively small rounded-triangular pygidium with long marginal spines.

The wide free cheeks bear strong genal spines; short, thorn-like intragenal spines mark the posterior corners of the fixed cheeks. The glabella is long and narrow, slightly expanded forwards. There are four pairs of lateral glabellar furrows; the anterior two pairs are weaker and angled to the front, the stronger posterior two are angled back. Very long narrow eyes that bow strongly outward are located far back on the cephalon. The occipital ring extends rearward into a strong, broad-based spine. Long, blade-shaped terminal spines on the wide pleurae curve progressively more backwards. A slender needle-like spine arises from the axial ring of the eighth thoracic segment. There are four pygidial axial rings; five pairs of marginal spines, each successively shorter, are directed rearwards and extend beyond the tip of the pygidium.

Unmineralized anatomy: not known.


Zacanthoides romingeri is moderately abundant at the Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds but absent from Fossil Ridge. Complete trilobites with the free cheeks in place are very scarce, and this species is mostly found as disarticulated sclerites. Its distinctive characteristics, however, usually allow even isolated pieces to be readily identified.

Maximum Size:
60 mm


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

Zacanthoides romingeri adults very likely walked along the sea bed. The overall spinosity of this species may have served as a deterrent to predators, or possibly helped to break up the visual outline of the animal, making it harder to see on the sea floor (Rudkin, 1996).


RASETTI, F. 1951. Middle Cambrian stratigraphy and faunas of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 116 (5): 1-277.

RESSER, C. E. 1942. Fifth contribution to nomenclature of Cambrian trilobites. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 101 (15): 1-58.

ROMINGER, C. 1887. Description of primordial fossils from Mount Stephens, N. W. Territory of Canada. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1887: 12-19.

RUDKIN, D. M. 1996. The Trilobite Beds of Mount Stephen, Yoho National Park, p. 59-68. In R. Ludvigsen (ed.), Life in Stone – A Natural History of British Columbia’s Fossils. UBC Press, Vancouver.

RUDKIN, D. M. 2009. The Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds, p. 90-102. In J.-B. Caron and D. Rudkin (eds.), A Burgess Shale Primer – History, Geology, and Research Highlights. The Burgess Shale Consortium, Toronto.

SCHOLTZ, G. AND G. D. EDGECOMBE. 2006. The evolution of arthropod heads: reconciling morphological, developmental and palaeontological evidence. Development Genes and Evolution, 216: 395-415.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1888. Cambrian fossils from Mount Stephens, Northwest Territory of Canada. American Journal of Science, Series 3, 36: 163-166.

WALCOTT, C. D. 1908. Mount Stephen rocks and fossils. Canadian Alpine Journal, 1:232-248.

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