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Type: Article
Published: 2012-12-12
Page range: 121–138
Abstract views: 155
PDF downloaded: 123

Observations on Onychaster Meek & Worthen, 1868 (Ophiuroidea: Onychasteridae) (Famennian – Visean age)*

Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute, Vineyard Haven, MA, USA
Earth and Ocean Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
Ophiuroidea Furcasteridae Onychaster Palaeozoic Classification ophiuroid vertebrae


Onychaster is prominent in discussions on the ancestry of crown group ophiuroids because about half of researchers have classified Onychaster as a Palaeozoic representative of the living Order Euryalida. With this classification there is a Mis­sissippian to Cretaceous gap in the euryalid fossil record. Other researchers have classified Onychaster as non-euryalid, in which case there is no such gap. This undecided status is an important reason to review the classification of Onychaster using new observations. In Onychaster the lateral plates are strictly on the underside of the arm where they form a double row and nearly touch midventrally; there are no mid-ventral underarm plates. The undersurface-laterals bear a transverse row of spines that point proximally (in retro-direction). The disk in large specimens bulges interradially such that the arms insert subambitally. The morphology of Onychaster vertebrae is documented anew in SEM stereo-pair images. Distinc­tive features include: a median dorsal cleft or circular pit on the upper surface; an auluroid canal; paired epanapophyses; a zygosphene dorsal to the auluroid canal; exceptionally spacious fossae for the ventral longitudinal muscles; and an undersurface plastron that is dimensioned like a waist belt. These features are transformationally close to eospondylid/furcasterid vertebrae and progressively/increasingly distant from zygospondylous, transpondylous, and streptospondy­lous vertebrae. Classification of Onychaster as an euryalid is not supported. We reclassify the Onychasteridae next to the Furcasteridae.