Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Exceptional multifunctionality in the feeding apparatus of a mid-Cambrian radiodont


Moysiuk, Joseph; Caron, Jean-Bernard (2021), Exceptional multifunctionality in the feeding apparatus of a mid-Cambrian radiodont, Dryad, Dataset,


Radiodonts (stem Euarthropoda) were ecologically diverse, but species generally displayed limited functional specialization of appendages along the body axis compared to crown group euarthropods. This is puzzling because such functional specialization is considered to have been an important driver of euarthropod ecological diversification. One way to circumvent this constraint could have been the functional specialization of different parts of the frontal appendages, known to have been ecologically important in radiodonts. This hypothesis has yet to be tested explicitly. Here we redescribe the poorly known mid-Cambrian hurdiid radiodont Stanleycaris hirpex from the Burgess Shale (Stephen Formation) and quantitatively assess appendage functional specialization in stem euarthropods. The appendages of Stanleycaris are composed of fourteen podomeres, variously differentiated by their possession of pectinate endites, mono- to trifurcate medial gnathites, and outer spines. The oral cone is tetraradially organized and can be uniquely distinguished from other hurdiids by the presence of 28 rather than 32 smooth tridentate plates. Our phylogenetic analysis finds Stanleycaris in a grade of hurdiids retaining plesiomorphic raptorial appendicular functionality alongside derived adaptations for sweep feeding and large, bilaterally opposed gnathites. We conclude that the latter performed a masticatory function, convergent with gnathal structures like mandibles in various panarthropods. In combination, our results demonstrate that Stanleycaris and similar hurdiids provide an extreme example of the evolution of division of labour within the appendage of a stem euarthropod and suggest that this innovation may have facilitated the functional transition, from raptorial to sweep feeding, at the origin of the hurdiid clade.