• Ammonoid chamber formation;
  • cameral membranes;
  • goniatites;
  • Permian;
  • prolecanitids

We describe cameral membranes in prolecanitid and goniatitid ammonoids from the Lower Permian Arcturus Formation, Nevada, USA. The membranes are preserved as phosphatic sheets and were originally composed of organic material such as conchiolin. Because the phragmocones are filled with micritic calcite, the cameral membranes can be exposed by etching with weak acetic acid. The membranes are associated with the siphuncle and also coat the septal faces and chamber walls. The siphuncular membranes are much more extensive in the prolecanitids than in the goniatites. These membranes appear in the prolecanitids at the beginning of the third whorl, corresponding to a shell diameter of 3–4 mm, and become more complex through ontogeny. Additional membranes, called transverse membranes, appear in some of the septal saddles on the ventrolateral side. The siphuncular membranes in prolecanitids are very similar to those in the Ceratitina plus Mesozoic Ammonoidea, suggesting that such membranes are widely distributed in this group. However, the origin and function of these membranes are unclear. We argue that the siphuncular membranes were sequentially secreted by the rear mantle during forward movement of the body and were not produced by desiccation of cameral liquid after the formation of the chambers. The most compelling arguments for this interpretation are the abrupt appearance of these membranes at a shell diameter of approximately 3–4 mm in prolecanitids, ceratites, and ammonitids, coincident with the end of the neanic stage, and the uniform increase in complexity of the membranes through ontogeny. The shape of the siphuncular membranes in prolecanitids suggests the presence of an invagination on the dorsal side of the siphuncle during part of the chamber formation cycle. Cameral membranes may have served a variety of functions including stabilizing the cameral liquid to reduce rocking motion during swimming, anchoring the siphuncle to the chamber wall, and facilitating cameral liquid removal, permitting a faster rate of growth.