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A reconstruction of Ottoia burrowing

Ottoia (named after Otto Pass, British Columbia)[1] is a stem-group priapulid worm of the Middle Cambrian period found in North America and Europe.[2]


Ottoia was similar to modern-day priapulid worms in morphology. For example, the spiny proboscis distinctive of this phylum is present at the front end of the animal.[3] Specimens measure an average of 8 centimeters long, although they can range anywhere from 3 to 15 centimeters.[4]


Although Ottoia was a type of priapulid worm, it has been given its own taxonomic family, Ottoiidae.[5]


Ottoia fossils are prevalent at the Burgess Shale fossil site of British Columbia, with over a thousand specimens known.[6][7] In addition, it is also known from deposits of the Wheeler Shale in Utah, as well as sites in Spain[8] and Nevada.[9]


Ottoia was a burrower, and an active predator. It is believed to have constructed U-shaped burrows in the sea substrate and waited for a potential prey item to approach, whereupon it would grab it with its flexible proboscis.[10] Fossil evidence, including gut contents of Ottoia, support this theory, and it is even possible to tell what genera it fed on.[11]


  2. Budd, G. E.; Jensen, S. (2000). "A critical reappraisal of the fossil record of the bilaterian phyla". Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 75 (2): 253–95. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.1999.tb00046.x. PMID 10881389.
  3. Conway Morris, S (1977). "Fossil priapulid worms". Special papers in Palaeontology 20.
  6. Caron, J. -B.; Jackson, D. A. (October 2006). "Taphonomy of the Greater Phyllopod Bed community, Burgess Shale". PALAIOS 21 (5): 451–465. doi:10.2110/palo.2003.P05-070R.
  8. Conway Morris, S.; Robison, R. A. (1986). "Middle Cambrian priapulids and other soft-bodied fossils from Utah and Spain". University of Kansas Paleontological Contributions 117: 1–22. hdl:1808/3696.
  9. Lieberman, B. S. (2003). "A New Soft-Bodied Fauna: the Pioche Formation of Nevada". Journal of Paleontology 77 (4): 674–690. doi:10.1666/0022-3360(2003)077<0674:ANSFTP>2.0.CO;2. ISSN 0022-3360.
  10. Vannier, Jean (August 2009). "The Gut Contents of Ottoia (Priapulida) from the Burgess Shale: Implications for the Reconstruction of Cambrian Food Chains". In Smith, Martin R.; O'Brien, Lorna J.; Caron, Jean-Bernard. Abstract Volume. International Conference on the Cambrian Explosion (Walcott 2009). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Burgess Shale Consortium. 31st July 2009. ISBN 978-0-9812885-1-2.
  11. Bruton, D. L. (2001). "A death assemblage of priapulid worms from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale". Lethaia 34 (2): 163. doi:10.1080/00241160152418456.