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Article: Cochleatina: an enigmatic Ediacaran–Cambrian survivor among small carbonaceous fossils (SCFs)

Palaeontology - Vol. 63 Part 5 - Cover Image
Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 63
Part: 5
Publication Date: September 2020
Page(s): 733 752
Author(s): Ben J. Slater, Thomas H. P. Harvey, Andrey Bekker, and Nicholas J. Butterfield
Addition Information

How to Cite

SLATER, B.J., HARVEY, T.H.P., BEKKER, A., BUTTERFIELD, N.J. 2020. . Palaeontology, 63, 5, 733-752. DOI: /doi/10.1111/pala.12484

Author Information

  • Ben J. Slater - Department of Earth Sciences, Palaeobiology Uppsala University Villavägen 16 Uppsala 752 36 Sweden
  • Thomas H. P. Harvey - School of Geography, Geology & the Environment University of Leicester University Rd Leicester LE1 7RH UK
  • Andrey Bekker - Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences UC Riverside 900 University Av. Riverside CA 92521 USA
  • Nicholas J. Butterfield - Department of Earth Sciences University of Cambridge Downing St Cambridge CB2 3EQ UK

Publication History

  • Issue published online: 30 August 2020
  • Manuscript Accepted: 06 March 2020
  • Manuscript Received: 26 November 2019

Funded By

Natural Environment Research Council. Grant Number: NE/K005251/1

Online Version Hosted By

Wiley Online Library (Open Access)
Get Article: Wiley Online Library [Open Access]


Conspicuously few body‐fossil taxa are known to span the Ediacaran–Cambrian boundary, a pattern usually taken to signal either a terminal Proterozoic mass extinction, or taphonomic failure. We draw attention to the emerging record of small carbonaceous fossils (SCFs), which exhibit continuous preservation spanning this critical interval. Here we focus on the enigmatic SCF Cochleatina, a morphologically complex coil‐shaped problematicum that ranges across the Ediacaran–Cambrian divide, and is potentially among the oldest fossil occurrences of metazoans. We report new material of Cochleatina canilovica from the Ediacaran of Estonia and Ukraine, which offers new characters for assessing its palaeobiology. Significantly, new specimens include sets of three‐alike triplets of Cochleatina adhering to organic sheets, suggesting a clustering habit, or grouping of elements within an individual during life; an important step in constraining the morphology and ecology of this Ediacaran–Cambrian problematicum. We present revised systematic descriptions for Cochleatina and C. canilovica, and critically evaluate previous biological interpretations, drawing comparisons with metazoan, algal and protistan analogues. We reject hypotheses supporting Cochleatina as a metazoan mouthpart, and suggest new grounds for viewing Cochleatina as a potential multicomponent predator that trapped protists among microbial mats. Most occurrences are from Baltica, but we synthesize sporadic reports of Cochleatina from other palaeocontinents, pointing to its global distribution during the latest ˜10 myr of the Ediacaran and majority of the earliest Cambrian Fortunian Stage. As a rare example of an ‘Ediacaran survivor’, Cochleatina highlights the broader significance of SCFs as a novel means of tracking evolutionary patterns through the Proterozoic–Phanerozoic transition.


We thank Heikki Bauert, Ursula Toom, Olle Hints (Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia) and Tõnis Saadre (Estonian Geological Survey) for their help in sampling at the superb TUT drillcore facilities and collections in Estonia, and Victor Podkovyrov (IPGG, Russian Academy of Sciences) for access to samples from the drillcore No. 700, Ukraine. We would like to thank Vojtěch Kovář (Charles University, Prague) for help with picking the cluster in Figure 5L, and Sören Jensen (Universidad de Extremadura, Spain) for helpful literature. We thank Teodoro Palacios, Małgorzata Moczydłowska and Sally Thomas for constructive reviews. This research was funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council, UK, grant NE/K005251/1 (BJS, THPH, NJB).

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