Unravelling the nature of Waiparaconus, a pennatulacean (Cnidaria: Octocorallia) from the Late Mesozoic–Early Cainozoic of the Southern Hemisphere



Enigmatic calcareous conical fossils have been known from marine Paleocene–Eocene sequences of New Zealand since the early 1870s. More recently, similar fossils have been recorded from both Late Cretaceous marine sequences of Western Australia, New Caledonia and Antarctica, and possibly from the Eocene of South America. The present paper extends the record to the late Cretaceous of New Caledonia. These remains are unlike any living taxa, and have been variously interpreted as molluscs (rudistid bivalves), cirripedes (stalked barnacles), annelids and inorganic structures. Assignation to the Cirripedia has been refuted by Buckeridge (1983, 1993), who proposed that the material would be better placed within the Cnidaria. We investigate this hypothesis in light of the New Caledonian material and by comparison with living gorgonians and pennatulaceans, and demonstrate that Waiparaconus is best placed within the Pennatulacea. Waiparaconus zelandicus varies in form somewhat, with 3 morphotypes defined and reinforced by geography. Comment is provided on the imperative to fit organic remains into known groups, with reflection on what may happen if taxa are left in insertae sedis.