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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Paleobiology

Thaumaptilon walcotti (a sea pen)

Thaumaptilon

Here the artist shows us a leaf-like animal with a hold-fast at the bottom with which it moved around and attached itself to the substrate. It was a large animal, (NOT a plant) ranging up to 8 inches in length. Note that the numerous "branches" projecting from the central "stem" (axis). There are indications that the branches were connected internally to the axis by tiny canals. On the outside they were covered on one surface by thousands of tiny spots; possible zooids (the individual elements of colonial animals). Note the fold showing us the alternate side which did not carry zooids.

Thaumaptilon gains importance as a possible link between the late Precambrian Ediacaran animals that resemble quilted sheets, and the sea pens of later periods. Since experts disagree on whether or not most of the Ediacaran organisms became extinct before the start of the Cambrian, Thaumaptilon possibly represents what is termed a "Lazarus" genus, a rare escapee from the massive extinctions that usually mark the end of major geologic periods.

Thaumaptilon
  • Thaumaptilon
  • copyright © Simon Conway-Morris

Thaumaptilon walcotti (THAW-ma-TILL-on WALL-cot-eye). From thauma (Gr.) = marvel, wonder; ptilon (Gr.) = feather, leaf; hence, Walcott's wonderful sea feather.


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