Letter | Published:

A giant Ordovician anomalocaridid

Nature volume 473, pages 510513 (26 May 2011) | Download Citation



Anomalocaridids, giant lightly sclerotized invertebrate predators, occur in a number of exceptionally preserved early and middle Cambrian (542–501 million years ago) biotas and have come to symbolize the unfamiliar morphologies displayed by stem organisms in faunas of the Burgess Shale type. They are characterized by a pair of anterior, segmented appendages, a circlet of plates around the mouth, and an elongate segmented trunk lacking true tergites with a pair of flexible lateral lobes per segment1,2. Disarticulated body parts, such as the anterior appendages and oral circlet, had been assigned to a range of taxonomic groups—but the discovery of complete specimens from the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale showed that these disparate elements all belong to a single kind of animal3. Phylogenetic analyses support a position of anomalocaridids in the arthropod stem, as a sister group to the euarthropods4,5,6. The anomalocaridids were the largest animals in Cambrian communities. The youngest unequivocal examples occur in the middle Cambrian Marjum Formation of Utah7 but an arthropod retaining some anomalocaridid characteristics is present in the Devonian of Germany5. Here we report the post-Cambrian occurrence of anomalocaridids, from the Early Ordovician (488–472 million years ago) Fezouata Biota8 in southeastern Morocco, including specimens larger than any in Cambrian biotas. These giant animals were an important element of some marine communities for about 30 million years longer than previously realized. The Moroccan specimens confirm the presence of a dorsal array of flexible blades attached to a transverse rachis on the trunk segments; these blades probably functioned as gills.

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S. Butts (Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History) provided access to specimens. M. Ben Said Ben Moula originally discovered the specimens and made them available for study; he, together with J. P. Botting-Muir and L. A. Botting-Muir, P. J. Orr, C. Upton and J. Vinther also assisted with fieldwork, and B. Tahiri arranged logistical support. J. W. Hagadorn shared information on anomalocaridid size and R. R. Gaines discussed aspects of the taphonomy. E. Champion helped with the preparation of figures. This research was supported by a National Geographic Society Research and Exploration grant and by Yale University.

Author information


  1. Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, PO Box 208109, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA

    • Peter Van Roy
    •  & Derek E. G. Briggs
  2. Research Unit Palaeontology, Department of Geology and Soil Science, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281/S8, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium

    • Peter Van Roy
  3. Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA

    • Derek E. G. Briggs


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The authors contributed equally to interpreting the fossils and writing the paper. P.V.R. played the primary role in field work, and prepared, photographed and drew the specimens.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Derek E. G. Briggs.

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