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“Breath-Taking” Brachiopods

July 13, 2017

Written by Chilea Dickson, Paleontology Summer Intern

As a biology major at Shaw University, I was very eager to participate in the NSF funded Paleontology internship at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Coinciding with my study of living organisms, I was able to step beyond the “grave” to see the history of the living through paleontology, which is the study of fossils. Paleontology has always been a fascination of mine, however, I have not had any exposure to it. But this was my opportunity! The first day of my internship, I was introduced to brachiopods (which I had never even heard of before!)

Photo of a brachiopod

Looks like a clam right?! Wrong! It’s a beautiful brachiopod!

What is a brachiopod?

Photo of a brachiopod

Look at the very intricate design of this fascinating creature!

Brachiopods are the only members of the phylum Brachiopoda and are a clade of protostomes, meaning the mouth develops before the anus in the embryonic state. Brachiopods look similar to clams, but their anatomy is quite different. Brachiopods have hard shells, with two unequally sized valves. The larger valve is the pedicle valve and the smaller is the brachial valve.

Photo of a brachiopod showing the two unequally-sized valves.

Notice how the pedicle valve overlaps the brachial valve.

Their shells are hinged at the back end, while the front area can be opened for feeding, or it can remain closed, for protection. Brachiopods have a fleshy stalk at their back end called a “pedicle” which is used to attach to a substrate.

Photo of an extant brachiopod showing a fleshy stalk (upper center) known as a pedicle.

An extant brachiopod. The lovely structure that looks similar to a tail is actually the pedicle. This specimen is part of the NCSM’s Non-Molluscan Invertebrate Collection.

These marine organisms were abundant in the Paleozoic era (about 251-542 million years ago). Brachiopods, though less common, are still around today. But think about how long these animals have been around and what they might have lived through. Wow! Brachiopods bring a whole new meaning to “survival of the fittest!”

Photo of two Paleozoic brachiopods

Brachiopods were around before dinosaurs!!!

Chilea Dickson’s internship is funded by a National Science Foundation Collections in Support of Biological Research  (NSF/CSBR) grant to the Paleontology Unit at the North Carolina  Museum of Natural Sciences.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. kabutton permalink
    July 13, 2017 12:51 pm

    Reblogged this on FossilPhiles.

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