Discover the giant armored molluscs with spikes from 500 million years ago
Discover the giant armored molluscs with spikes from 500 million years ago

Discover the giant armored molluscs with spikes from 500 million years ago

The evolution of life began with the explosion of life in the Cambrian period. This second period of the Paleozoic era features many strange-looking multicellular organisms. It was the era for some of the significant evolutionary achievements that exist in organisms today.

While there were floating jelly-like fish like Hakouihthys, the creature described in this article was like a porpoise. It’s called Wiwaxia. Wiwaxia was a genus of marine invertebrates. It was a small animal with spikes on its back. She was featured in “First Life” by David Attenborough.

This animal lived near the bottom of the ocean because it helped to survive. He wasn’t a swimmer, so he probably sank to the bottom of the ocean. We will discuss what Wiwaxia is and when it existed. We will also discuss how it lived and disappeared millions of years ago.

Description and size

Wiwaxia was a small marine organism that lived as a snail in the seas. Belongs mollusc the group of animals and the Wiwaxiidae family. It was an invertebrate with a soft body and smooth belly. Although the belly was not protected, it had protection on the back. It had leaf-like scales on its belly.

Wiwaxia lived between the early and middle Cambrian periods of the Paleozoic era. They were part of the multicellular organisms that evolved during the Cambrian explosion. They existed between 541 and 485 million years ago. This animal has traits that still exist in many molluscs today.

Some key facts about Wiwaxia are:

  • Length – about 2 inches long
  • Height – about 1 cm without spikes
  • Diameter – approximately 30 mm
  • Attributes – very small, tip on back, head and tailless, ventral side smooth like a snail

Wiwaxia is one of evolution’s creatures that has developed an obvious defense mechanism. They were animals prone to being easy prey. It is due to their lack of skills and abilities to fight and attack. It also means they were at the bottom of the food chain. Their defensive backs had long sharp spikes and armor.

The spines on its back could grow as long as its body. It used this spike to defend itself from predator attacks. Wiwaxia had small armor plates covering her back. These armor plates acted as shields against predator attacks. It means that while the plates protected it, it could attack and repel predators with its sharp spikes.

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The armor plates are called sclerites. They are arranged in 8 rows and are flat on its body. They are also overlapped to form five regions of his armor. This armor is periodically changed as the animal grows. Wiwaxia had a mouth with small sharp teeth. Since it was unable to hunt, it probably used them to better access the algae on the ocean floor.

Wiwaxia had no head, which means it had no eyes. It was probably a blind animal that relied on its smell and senses to navigate the ocean floor. There are four known species of Wiwaxia which are; Wiwaxia corrugata, Wiwaxia foliosa, Wiwaxia papilio and Wiwaxia taijiangnsis.

Fossilized remains of Wiwaxia from the Burgess Shale.
Mature specimen of Wiwaxia, with incipient spines and scleritome partially exposing underlying tissue.

Wiwaxia corrugata from the Burgess Shale. ROM 61151 (Fig. 3G) – Mature example with incipient spines and partial scleretoma exposing underlying tissue – Licence

Diet – What did Wiwaxia eat?

Wiwaxia was a bottom feeder of this period. His mouth was on her soft belly. He had two or three rows of small teeth. They were conical shaped teeth facing backwards. Scientists suggest that Wiwaxia used its teeth to clean and feed on organisms on the ocean floor.

Wiwaxia was a headless animal with no skills or hunting abilities. It was a bottom feeder that probably used its mouth and teeth to clean algae from the sea and ocean floor. It belonged to the bottom of the food chain. Its slow movement and lack of maneuverability mean it probably couldn’t catch smaller organisms.

They were probably regulars of the microbial mats on the ocean floor at the time. Later, during the Cambrian period, these microbial bats had to give way to new developments on the ocean floor. Scientists suggest that the extinction of Wiwaxia around the middle Cambrian period is due to the eradication of microbial mats.

Habitat – When and where did Wiwaxia live

Wiwaxia was a marine animal that lived in the seas and oceans of its time. It existed at a time when the Earth was mostly water. The evolution of life during this period focused on marine life. This restriction of evolution to water and the Cambrian explosion led to Wiwaxia in the oceans.

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Wiwaxia was spread all over the world. This animal lived on a land that was 85% water, which meant room to explore and diversify. They were mainly present in the Burges Shale of British Columbia. Other key locations are the Kaili Formation in China, the Emu Bay Shale in Australia and the Buchava Formation in the Czech Republic.

Threats and predators to Wiwaxia

Wiwaxia was an animal without the ability to be a predator. It was a slow animal with no maneuvering skills. He had no swimming skills and no tail. Wiwaxia shows that it has been the prey of every predator in the sea. There was a time when the seas had some ferocious predators.

This period features the first evolutionary apex predator, Anomalocaris. Anomalocaris was probably a predator of Wiwaxia. Anomalocaris was an extremely maneuverable animal. It also had mouthparts that could help it overcome a Wiwaxia’s defenses.

The course of evolution has also been a threat to this animal. As the Cambrian period progressed, one of Wiwaxia’s likely primary food sources was eradicated. The food source called microbial mats gave way to an oxygenated ocean floor that the organisms could inhabit. Scientists believe this caused Wiwaxia to disappear before the end of the Cambrian period.

Discoveries and Fossils – Where Wiwaxia was found

Wiwaxia was first discovered in 1899. The first discovery was of a single peak from its defensive back. In 1911, Charles Walcott Doolittle discovered more fossils in the Burgess Shale. More fossils were discovered in 1966 and 1967 in another expedition by Harry B. Wittington.

Wiwaxia had a worldwide presence during its time. Its fossils have been found in the Czech Republic, China, Canada and Australia. Its fossils have been found in different parts of the world.

Extinction – When did Wiwaxia die out?

Scientists suggest that Wiwaxia did not exist beyond the middle Cambrian period. It is because there are no traces of it and none of its fossils date back to that time. Some scientists have linked its disappearance to the lack of the most convenient food source.

Wiwaxia could also have gone extinct during the Cambrian extinction events. The end of this period marked the disappearance of many species. If Wiwaxia survived from another food source until the end of the period, it probably went extinct due to an extinction event.

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Animals similar to Wiwaxia

Wiwaxia was a unique creature of its time, as was the trend. It belongs to a class of mollusks that still exist in today’s ecosystem. Some animals similar to Wiwaxia are:


Slugs are animals that belong to the mollusk group. They are similar to Wiwaxia with their flat and soft bellies. However, a snail has a soft body all over with no protection. They are also slow creatures and live on land. They are slimy creatures that leave slime trails as they move. There are approximately 5,000 species of snails worldwide.


Snails are molluscs that have a shell on their back. Unlike Wiwaxia, they can retreat into their shell for protection. Their shells have no spikes and are a single unit. Like many molluscs, snails are slow-moving animals. They are invertebrates that can live in the sea and on land. There are approximately 40,000 species of snails worldwide.


Periwinkles are a form of sea snail. They possess smooth shells about 1 inch long. This bark can be brown or gray. Although they are marine animals, they could live for days on land in extreme situations. They are also molluscs and leave traces of their movement. There are about 80 species of periwinks worldwide.


An octopus is an animal with eight tentacles that lives in the ocean. This animal is a soft-bodied creature with claws on its tentacles to grasp things. Octopuses have three hearts. They can also camouflage their skin color to match the environment. There are about 300 species of octopuses in the oceans.


Squids are creatures with tentacles like octopuses. They can also camouflage their skin. They are one of the fastest swimming invertebrates in the oceans. While an octopus has a round head, a squid has a triangular head. There are about 300 species of squid worldwide.


Wiwaxia is a strange gift of evolution on earth. It has a very unique and rare body structure. It was like an ocean slug and lived through the Cambrian oceans. Wiwaxia was prey to the predators of her time, with only her spiny, armored back to protect her.

It follows:

Discover more secrets that evolution has to offer. Understanding what ancient animals existed helps to better appreciate today’s ecosystem. We offer more articles about ancient animals and events on this site.