Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences

Evidence for life habits from exceptionally preserved faunas

Modes of life of arthropods from the Burgess Shale, British Columbia

D. E. G. Briggsa1 p1 and H. B. Whittingtona2

a1 Department of Earth Sciences, University of London, Goldsmiths' College, Rachel McMillan Building, Creek Road, London SE8 3BU, England.

a2 Sedgwick Museum, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EQ, England.


The modes of life of twenty three species of arthropods from the Shale are reviewed, with special reference to locomotion and feeding. Six groups are recognised, predatory and scavenging benthos, deposit-feeding benthos, scavenging and possibly predatory nektobenthos, deposit-feeding and scavenging nektobenthos, nektonic filter-feeders, and a miscellaneous sixth group that includes a questionable example of parasitism and a species that doubtfully grazed on algae. These animals had but limited powers of walking, digging, raking or swimming. Within these limitations a range of morphological adaptations and modes of feeding had been evolved, by Middle Cambrian time, a range comparable to that found in Recent marine forms. Arthropods in the Shale dominated, in numbers of individuals and possibly in biomass, a fauna dwelling above, on and in a muddy substrate at a depth of about 100 m.


  • feeding;
  • locomotion;
  • Middle Cambrian;
  • palaeoecology


p1 Present address: Department of Geology, University of Bristol, Oueens Building, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TR, England.