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Form of the trilobite digestive system: alimentary structures in Pterocephalia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 May 2016

Brian D. E. Chatterton
Affiliation:
1Department of Geology, University of Alberta, Edmonton T6G 2E3, Canada
Zerina Johanson
Affiliation:
1Department of Geology, University of Alberta, Edmonton T6G 2E3, Canada
George Sutherland
Affiliation:
2Canadian Petroleum Training Institute, P.O. Box 3651, Postal Station B, Calgary, Alberta T2M 4M4, Canada

Abstract

Three types of alimentary canals (=midgut) occur in the Annelida and non-trilobite Arthropoda: 1) a sagittal tube with metamerically paired diverticula related to the number of somites; 2) a tube that is constricted slightly between somites; and 3) a simple tubular gut that may taper slightly backwards to the anus. At least two of these three types (1 and 3) occur in the Trilobita. Pterocephalia and Olenoides share the first type with the probable sister taxon to the Trilobita, Naraoia (Nectaspida), and this is probably the plesiomorphic condition for the class. Varying feeding habits may well have made this character homoplastic within each of these groups. The preservation of parts of the alimentary tract in specimens of Upper Cambrian Pterocephalia n. sp. (McKay Group, British Columbia) was probably a function of taphonomic and/or very early diagenetic changes that resulted from the type of food preferred by that trilobite. Other trilobites from the same beds do not have their soft parts preserved. The alimentary structures are preserved in a different fashion from, apparently unattached to, and an order of magnitude larger than genal caeca that occur in this taxon. Thus, genal caeca are regarded as imprints of circulatory rather than alimentary structures.

Energy dispersive analysis of a fragment of preserved alimentary tract of Pterocephalia n. sp. showed the presence of Ca, Si, Al, Fe, P, K, Na, and Cl. These alimentary tracts are composed of a complex mixture of minerals that probably includes clays, detrital quartz, carbonates, phosphates, and oxides or hydroxides. The structure of these dark fillings is microcrystalline. The presence of detrital minerals as part of this mixture would suggest that this trilobite was a deposit feeder.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Paleontological Society 

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