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Department of Paleobiology

Ottoia prolifica (a priapulid worm)


If you view the Burgess Shale site reconstruction you'll see Ottoia in the foreground at lunch. As that reconstruction suggests, this creature lived within a U-shaped burrow that it constructed in the substrate. From that place of relative safety it extended its proboscis (the smaller protuberance topping the right side of the animal illustrated here) in search of prey. Ottoia is thought to have been an active burrower moving through the sediment after prey. A carnivore, it often feasted on the hyolithid Haplophrentis, generally swallowing them head-first. Since at least one Ottoia fossil has been found with a portion of another in its gut, it may have been a cannibal as well. These traits have passed on for today the priapulid worms are still active carnivores.

Because of its bottom living habit and the "hazardous" location of the Burgess Shale site at the foot of a lofty limestone reef, one may presume Ottoia's relative immobility placed it in danger of being carried away and/or buried by any underwater mud avalanche from the cliff top. Perhaps that's why it remains one of the more abundant specimens of the Burgess Shale fauna. Sizes range from about one to six inches in body length.

  • Ottoia

Ottoia prolifica (oh-TOY-ah proe-LIFF-ih-kah). After Otto Creek, north of the President Range + prolific, fruitful.

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