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Keywords:

  • halwaxiids;
  • scleritomorphs;
  • Aculifera;
  • Mollusca;
  • evolution;
  • Cambrian explosion

Abstract

The soft-bodied Cambrian organism Wiwaxia poses a taxonomic conundrum. Its imbricated dorsal scleritome suggests a relationship with the polychaete annelid worms, whereas its mouthparts and naked ventral surface invite comparison with the molluscan radula and foot. 476 new and existing specimens from the 505-Myr-old Burgess Shale cast fresh light on Wiwaxia's sclerites and scleritome. My observations illuminate the diversity within the genus and demonstrate that Wiwaxia did not undergo discrete moult stages; rather, its scleritome developed gradually, with piecewise addition and replacement of individually secreted sclerites. I recognize a digestive tract and creeping foot in Wiwaxia, solidifying its relationship with the contemporary Odontogriphus. Similarities between the scleritomes of Wiwaxia, halkieriids, Polyplacophora and Aplacophora hint that the taxa are related. A molluscan affinity is robustly established, and Wiwaxia provides a good fossil proxy for the ancestral aculiferan – and perhaps molluscan – body plan.