Schinderhannes bartelsi


Fans of the great Cambrian predator, Anomalocaris, will be pleased to hear that a cousin lived at least until the Devonian, over 100 million years later. That makes this a fairly successful clade of great-appendage arthropods — a group characterized by a pair of very large and often spiky manipulatory/feeding arms located in front of the mouth. Here’s the new fellow, Schinderhannes bartelsi:

(click for larger image)

Holotype of Schinderhannes bartelsi. (A) Ventral. (B) Interpretative drawing of ventral side. l, left; r, right; A1, great appendage; A2, flaplike appendage; sp, spine; fm, flap margin; te, tergite; ta, trunk appendage. (C) Partly exposed dorsal side, horizontally mirrored. (D) Interpretative drawing of dorsal side. (E) Interpretative drawing of great appendages, combining information from the dorsal and ventral sides. (F) Radiograph. (G) Reconstruction. Scale bar, 10 mm [for (A) to (G)]. (H) Mouth-part. Scale bar, 5 mm.

There are some significant differences between familiar old Anomalocaris and Schinderhannes. Anomalocaris was a monster that grew to about a meter long; this little guy is about a tenth of that, around 4 inches. He also has those interesting “wings” behind his head, which presumably aided in swimming.

Another significant feature of this animal is that it has characters that place it in the Euarthropoda, which makes great appendages paraphyletic and primitively present in euarthropods. Those great appendages have long been a curiousity, and we’ve wondered whether they are a unique innovation that was completely lost in modern arthropods, or whether they evolved into one of the other more familiar cephalic appendages; the authors suggest that this linkage with the euarthropod family tree implies that chelicera (what you may recognize as the big paired ‘fangs’ of spiders) are modified great appendages.

Cladogram; tree length, 87. Consistency index, 0.5402; retention index, 0.6552. (1) Peytoia-like mouth sclerites, terminal mouth position, lateral lobes, loss of lobopod limbs, and stalked eyes. (2) Great appendages. (3) Sclerotized tergites, head shield, loss of lateral lobes, and biramous trunk appendages. (4) Stalked eyes in front and loss of radial mouth. (5) Post-antennal head appendages biramous and antenna in first head position. (6) Free cephalic carapace, carapace bivalved, and two pairs of antennae. (7) Maxilla I and II. (8) Exopods simple oval flap. (9) Two pre-oral appendages and a multisegmented trunk endopod. (10) Post-antennal head appendages biramous and tail appendages fringed with setae. (11) Long flagellae on great appendage and exopods fringed with filaments. (12) Trunk appendages uniramous and eyes not stalked. (13) No posterior tergites. (14) Tail spines and chelicere/chelifore on first head position. (15) Proboscis. (16) Six post-antennal head appendages.

Kühl G, Briggs DEG, Rust J (2009) A Great-Appendage Arthropod with a Radial Mouth from the Lower Devonian Hunsrück Slate, Germany. Science 323(5915):771-773.


  1. mothra says

    At only a few inches long, I wonder if this isn’t the immature form of what would ultimately be a significantly larger critter.

    That the ‘great appendages’ could be precursors of chelicera is intriguing. Equally cool is to look at the mouth parts of some of the archaic extinct insect orders such as Diaphonopterodea, Permothemistida and Megasecoptera and see tarsal claws (dactylopodites)at the ends of the maxillary and labial palpi.

  2. Keenacat says

    Schinderhannes is not the nicest guy to be named after. I hope nobody attemps to decapitate this little fellow.
    This is so cool, by the way.
    The last time somebody took the time to explain some neat fossilized animals to me was some teacher when I was twelve years old.

  3. ggab says

    If it were a truly great appendage, they’d have named it Johnholmes Bartelsi.

    Probably should have used that joke on the recent giant snake thread.

  4. John Morales says

    Freaky to realise that, for me it could be an image of any small arthropod in a pond somewhere today (I’m a layman), yet it lived so very long ago.

    PS Owlmirror, I really dug that story, it put Stross on my radar. The Gould cameo was most enjoyable.

  5. Happy Trollop says

    Whee! It only took 6 comments for the topic to turn racy! Of course, I’ve been giggling to myself for five minutes over the phrase “great appendage”.

    OK, fine. So I’m a 47-year-old woman with the sense of humour of a 13-year-old boy.

    [continues giggling]

    But anyway, a very cool animal. Can anyone explain to this ignoramus why its mouth region is drawn as a little ‘O’? Some sort of filter feeding?

  6. Stephanurus says

    How do I see all of the larger image? I can only see figures A, C, D and about half of B, and none of the others. There is no way to navigate to the bottom to see the rest of the images.

  7. Stephen Wells says

    So is the number of Cambrian phyla dropping again?

    @13: the mouth is drawn as an O because these guys had mouths like O’s. It’s a circle of sharp segments which close like a camera iris.

  8. John Morales says

    Happy @13, from Wikipedia:

    The mouth was a circular structure resembling a pineapple slice, but with a ring of hard sharp teeth in the central orifice. The mouth was more rectangular than round, and the teeth did not meet in the middle. This allowed it to crack open shells of small arthropods and other like animals, such as trilobites. Indeed, many trilobites have been found to have bite marks.

  9. bootsy says

    I wish my eyes were tough enough to fossilize, like this guy’s.

    Woodshop and welding would be so easy!

  10. qc says


    The last time somebody took the time to explain some neat fossilized animals to me was some teacher when I was twelve years old.

    I highly recommend reading Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.

  11. says

    I love this critter, Anomalocaris. Gould and Conway-Morris (who classified it) fell out over Gould’s description of the implications. Yes, the Showdown on the Burgess Shale featured bugs like this. This is the kind of creature whose existence and form tells us a little about what life was like in the Middle Cambrian, and poses questions whose answer may tell us what kind of world we live in.

  12. Newfie says

    from the sketch at G. in the image, I can visualizing that morphing into a fish quite easily. *shrugs*

  13. Edgar says

    Once the cephalopods kicked anomalocarids for the top predator position, seems like their descendents went diminutive, and the single pair of fins instead an array of them would have improved their speed; along of the Tully monster, looks like many more Cambrian weirdos survived to the next geological age…

  14. LisaJ says

    Wow, that is one frightening looking little guy. It’s amazing the vast array of creatures that evolution creates. It’s incredible enough to think of all of the organisms that exist right now, and then to try to even fathom how many others have come and gone over the last hundreds of millions of years… wow.

  15. Newfie says

    and then to try to even fathom how many others have come and gone over the last hundreds of millions of years… wow.

    The further we come, the more we see, the further we see, the closer we see, the further back we see, and the different ways we learn to see. Historically, “Now” has always been the coolest time to live. The Lord, God has truly blessed us.

  16. Happy Trollop says

    @18 & @19: Thanks, John and Stephen.

    “close like a camera iris”?
    “hard, sharp teeth”?

    Yeowch. Guess I won’t be chucking one under the chin with my pinky finger, then.

  17. Sven DiMilo says

    Wow. Cool animal.

    characters that place it in the Euarthropoda

    ? Wondering what those characters might be. The cladogram shown suggests that this animal could represent the sister-group of Euarthropoda, the basal lineage of Euarthropoda, or an internal lineage of Euarthropoda, depending on exactly how one chooses to define “Euarthropoda.”

  18. Stephanurus says

    I still can’t see the “larger image”. Right-clicking does not bring up a view screen. See comments #14 and #30.

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    Beders @ # 1 – almost all of the text in that Wikipedia stub article you cite is plagiarized from here (fwliw).

    The accompanying text says Schinderhannes bartelsi is named after “Johannes through the woods”, as the bandit H. Bückler called himself, but it doesn’t say why. (I suspect the first fossil having been found in Hans’s old stomping grounds may have something to do with it, but not all my suspicions are subsequently confirmed.)

  20. AlisonRobin says

    This is wonderful news- I’m a big fan of Anomalocaris.
    I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for anything Schinderhannes-related.

  21. kryth says

    That is one ugly thing. IT is stuff of nightmares really. It deserves it’s own monster movie or something.

  22. Didac says

    However, according to the cladogram Schinderhannes is closer to trilobites than to Anomalocaris.

  23. Peter Ashby says

    Didac you are reading the cladogram wrong, there are three steps back from Schinderhannes to a common ancestor with Anomalocaris while the trilobites take 4 to get there.

  24. Chris Tyrrell says

    Ia! Shub-niggurath! The Goat with a thousand eyes! Is it just me or is anyone else having a Lovecraft flashback here? I’m going to go re-read “At the Mountains of Madness”

  25. Stephen Wells says

    @43: I started reading some Lovecraft for the first time recently and it’s fantastic. Haven’t got to “Mountains of Madness” yet but it’s on the list.

    This guy is, clearly, a fungoid from Yoggoth.

  26. Graham Budd says

    This fantastic animal allows us to reconstruct the stem-lineage leading up to the living arthropods with some precision. I’m less persuaded about the great appendage homology however!

  27. Michael says

    @#35 Pierce R. Butler & @#1 Beders

    Schinderhannes (the bandit) was, indeed, mainly operating in the Hunsrueck, the area where they found the fossil. In German the term Raeuber (robber/bandit) is often used for predatory animals. In fact you could open a talk about the fossil and the bandit with the same phrase:
    `Schinderhannes ein Raeuber aus dem Hunsrueck…`

    very funny, indeed

  28. molliebatmit says

    How timely — I was in a class yesterday that discussed great appendages and their presence or absence in basal arthropods.

    Go protocerebrum! Innervate that great appendage!

  29. Alec says

    Didac at #41 has it right. The thing to look at is the order of nesting, not the number of branching steps along the way. According to the cladogram, trilobites and Schinderhannes (and everything else on down to the end) have a common ancestor at [3] which was not an ancestor of Anomalocaris. Ergo, they are all more closely related to each other than they are to Anomalocaris.

  30. mothra says

    Since Anomalocaris appears also to have sclerotized tergites and a head shield (character #3), the cladogram (or my conclusions) are hastily drawn up.

  31. says

    The most derived of the group, the Eurypterids could reach 9 feet long…talk about an impressive beastie!

    Cool article, thanks for the link

  32. Midnight Rambler says

    I’d agree with Graham @46; with the weird, derived characters of the radial mouth plates and grasping appendages, I’d put Anomalocaris and this thing in a clade together, which could go at the base of euarthropods, as sister to trilobites, or sister to chelicerates+GA arthropods. I think it’s a lot more likely that the free-swimming Anomalocaris lost its trunk legs (which are already reduced in Schinderhannes) to the point that they weren’t preserved, than that the main lineage of arthropods developed these specialized characters and then lost them.

  33. CG says

    to Glen @17

    That reminds me a bit of that scene in Hamlet where he talks about the worms. Something about the fisherman eating the fish that ate the worm that ate the king if I recall correctly. I had a giggle about it!

  34. herr doktor bimler says

    Of course, I’ve been giggling to myself for five minutes over the phrase “great appendage”.
    Can anyone explain to this ignoramus why its mouth region is drawn as a little ‘O’?

    Are you sure you want to know?

  35. Sven DiMilo says

    I’d put Anomalocaris and this thing in a clade together

    *shrug* That would make a nice clean story, but (as you probably know) this just isn’t how it’s done anymore. It’s not about subjectively grouping things according to opinion. You code your characters, dump the matrix into the computer, and let the algorithms sort things out. The tree shown is the best supported; you don’t get to trump it because you think another story is “more likely”–you have to add more taxa or characters or both and look at the empirical support.

  36. says

    It was Harry Whittington and Derek Briggs who reconstructed and classified Anomalocaris, not Simon Conway Morris.


    Anomalocaris does not have sclerotized tergites or a head shield, so is in the right position in the cladogram.

    I wouldn’t get too attached to the cladogram, as the authors readily admit, it’s unstable. There are too few characters, which are difficult to interpret, and slight changes in scoring produce significant variation in the tree.

    The case for the homology of the great appendage and the chelicerate appendage is still to be made.

  37. Arnosium Upinarum says

    I am intrigued that another of these marvelous early athropods exhibits a median “spine-like” structure composed of discrete segments. Segmentation along midline is obviously known in the trilobytes, but this particular specimen of a relation to Anomalocaris looks as if the segements are much more pronounced, each with a fairly regular and more intricate structure, similar to that in early vertebrates. I wasn’t aware that Anomalocaris fossils had anything like this to exhibit besides bilateral symmetry and the regularity of the segment structure. The thing that intrigues me is that bilateral symmetry in these early arthropods could have independently evolved a (repeated) segment structure that conferred much the same sort of benefit as that which vertebrates appear to have acheived.

    Anybody know of any studies related to this particular anatomical feature – namely bilateral arthropod ‘spines’ in comparison to vertebrate “spines”?

    I am wondering if anyone knows of any fossils that exhibit a bilateral symmetry and perhaps a spine-like structure that could be characterized as a potential common ancestor of the form to both arthropods and vertebrates? On the other hand, this might sound like a hopelessly idiotic question, but I’m not an evolutionary biologist, and I haven’t been able to find this out online. It’s only hopeful one to the biological community (of which I am still convinced PZ’s site is AT LEAST as well fortified as creationist trolls), those who nevertheless all too frequently look at a person cross-eyed because they worry FIRST about whether a stupid question comes from a creationist.

  38. Stephen Wells says

    There must have been something ancestral to both arthropods and vertebrates but we know that they were already distinct lineages in the Cambrian (Pikaia is a chordate), so the common ancestor may well have been so far back as to precede the development of easily-fossilised hard parts, and is likely unidentifiable. Paleontologists? Anyone? Bueller?

  39. says

    Segmentation was almost certainly present in the last common ancestor of arthropods and chorates. Eyes were probably appeared even earlier- but in this case we’d be talking about a patch of skin sensitive to light- nothing like as complex as the compound eyes in trilobites. This animal would have had no hard parts, so without exceptional preservation we won’t know what it looked like- nor recognise it for what it is.

    Segmentation is present in most of the animal groups you care to name, though it is often heavily obscured and only revealed by unusual “primitive” members of the group (such as the Monoplacophoran molluscs, which have iirc serially repeated gonads, gills and, kidneys), or through studying their development and the expression of their Hox genes.

    This last common ancestor probably looked rather like a flatworm. The spine in chordates is adapted from the notochord and there is no equivalent structure in arthropods.

  40. SimonG says

    #63 Might I recommend “The Ancestor’s Tale”, by Richard Dawkins? It’s very readable and although it covers a great deal more, it does describe the common ancestry of vertebrates and arthropods.

  41. John Kwok says

    The discovery of this Anomalocaris relative is analogous to finding a living pygmy Velociraptor in the Amazon jungle. This is why this discovery is so important.

    It is really incredible that the Anomalocaris clade persisted long after the time it was thought to go extinct, after the end of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale Fauna. Why? Here you have the descendant of what was the keystone species – the top predator – of the Middle Cambrian seas – still existing as a specialized niche predator many millions of years later. A relatively “primitive” predator in stark contrast to the more “advanced” eurypterids (sea scorpions) and placoderms (earliest jawed vertebrates) which became the top predators during the succeeding Ordovician and Silurian periods.

    Speaking of the Burgess Shale Fauna, one of this paper’s authors, DEG Briggs is the very Derek E. Briggs, who, along with his graduate advisor, Harry Whittington, and then fellow graduate student Simon Conway Morris, quite literally “re-wrote the book” on our understanding of the Burgess Shale Fauna, which, Stephen Jay Gould recounted – if a bit incorrectly – in his popular book “Wonderful Life”. Briggs is now a professor of geology and Director, Peabody Museum of Natural History, at Yale University.