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Fossil record

While some of the extant Anthozoa are soft-bodied and generally do not leave preservable traces, those groups that secrete skeletons have left a rich fossil record.

Anthozoa originated in the Precambrian, but their precise origins are murky. It is possible that some Ediacaran fossils such as Charnia or Eoporpita are early anthozoans; certainly by the Cambrian unequivocal sea pens and anemones are preserved in conservation lagerstatten such as the Chengjiang or Burgess Shale biotas. Molecular evidence suggests that Anthozoa is the oldest class within the Cnidaria.

Mineralised corals appeared in the Cambrian and had become important parts of the marine ecosystem by the Ordovician, with two main lineages, the Rugosa and Tabulata. Both rugose and tabulate corals went extinct at the Permo-Triassic boundary (a mass extinction event). A new clade, the Scleractinia, appeared soon thereafter; it is to this group that modern corals belong.

The fossil record of the Alcyonaria is very sparse; while some Cambrian fossils indicate their presence, most remains are from the Cretaceous and Cenozoic.

The following photographs show fossil specimens of anthozoans from the teaching collection at Bristol University (click on thumbnail to enlarge, click on back button in browser to return).

Acervularia ananas, a colonial rugose coral from the Silurian of Wenlock

Calamophyllia stokesi, a colonial rugose coral from the Jurassic of Steeple Ashton

"Cyathophyllum," a solitary rugose coral from the Devonian of Torquay

Favistella (Columnaria) alveolata, a colonial rugose coral from the Ordovician of Ontario

Halysites catenulatus, a tabulate coral from the Silurian of Wenlock

Thecosmilia annularis, a scleratinian coral from the Jurassic of Steeple Ashton

Author: Ben Kotrc
Last updated: 21 November 2005
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Websites produced by students on the MSc Palaeobiology programme in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol for academic year 2005-6