A Walk Through Time

The Burgess Shale

510 Million Years Ago

The Burgess Shale, in the Burgess Pass of the Canadian Rockies, is an impressive fossil find dating some 30 million years into the Cambrian period. Its impressions are especially precious because such preservation of soft-bodied marine animals is rare in the fossil record. This discovery provides a unique glimpse into the true range of diversity of early animal forms and their ecosystem.

Top: This velvet worm is very similar to fossils found in the Burgess Shale. These animals are thought to be the link between two extensive and important phyla, the arthropods (which include all insects and seagoing crustaceans) and the annelids (which are segmented worms). Scientists use these fossils, widespread before the break up of Gondwanaland (precursor to our present Southern Hemisphere), to reconstruct the history of drifting continents. (Photograph by Donald Zinn © Margery P. Zinn)

Bottom: Opabinia, fantasy-like predator of the Burgess Shale, measures three inches long. It has five eyes, gills all along its segmented body, and an efficient nozzle which vacuums prey for transfer to its mouth. (Illustration by Jan Sovak)

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