|Period||Cambrian (505-487 mya)|
|Length||6 cm or 2 inches|
Opabinia is an extinct stem-arthropod genus found in Cambrian fossil deposits. The only known species, O. regalis, is known from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale Lagerstätte of British Columbia, Canada. Fewer than twenty good specimens have been described; 3 specimens of Opabinia are known from the Greater Phyllopod bed, where they comprise less than 0.1% of the community. Opabinia was a soft-bodied animal of modest size, and its segmented body had lobes along the sides and a fan-shaped tail. The head shows unusual features: five eyes, a mouth under the head and facing backwards, and a proboscis that probably passed food to the mouth. Opabinia probably lived on the seafloor, using the proboscis to seek out small, soft food to scavenge. When the first thorough examination of Opabinia in 1975 revealed its unusual features, it was thought to be unrelated to any known phylum, although possibly related to a hypothetical ancestor of arthropods and of annelid worms. However, other finds, most notably Anomalocaris, suggested that it belonged to a group of animals that were closely related to the ancestors of arthropods and of which the living animals Onychophorans and Tardigrades may also be members. In the 1970s there was an ongoing debate about whether multi-celled animals appeared suddenly during the Early Cambrian, in an event called the Cambrian Explosion, or had arisen earlier but without leaving fossils. At first, Opabinia was regarded as strong evidence for the "explosive" hypothesis. Later, the discovery of a whole series of similar lobopod animals, some with closer resemblances to arthropods, and the development of the idea of stem groups suggested that the Early Cambrian was a time of relatively fast evolution but one that could be understood without assuming any unique evolutionary processes.
History of discovery
Charles Doolittle Walcott found in the Burgess Shale nine almost complete fossils of Opabinia regalis and a few of what he classified as Opabinia media, and published a description of all of these in 1912. The generic name is derived from Opabin pass between Mount Hungabee and Mount Biddle, southeast of Lake O'Hara, British Columbia, Canada.