Cephalon (arthropod head)

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The cephalon is the head section of an arthropod. It is a tagma, i.e., a specialized grouping of arthropod segments. The word cephalon derives from the Greek κεφαλή (kephalē), meaning "head".

Head Cephalic part of an animal

A head is the part of an organism which usually includes the ears, brain, forehead, cheeks, chin, eyes, nose, and mouth, each of which aid in various sensory functions such as sight, hearing, smell, and taste, respectively. Some very simple animals may not have a head, but many bilaterally symmetric forms do, regardless of size.

Arthropod Phylum of invertebrates

An arthropod is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and paired jointed appendages. Arthropods form the phylum Euarthropoda, which includes insects, arachnids, myriapods, and crustaceans. The term Arthropoda as originally proposed refers to a proposed grouping of Euarthropods and the phylum Onychophora.



Praecambridium sigillum.jpg
Ainiktozoon loganese.jpg
Left: Peronopsis interstrictus , an Agnostida from Cambrian age strata of Utah.
Center: Praecambridium sigillum
Right:The enigmatic creature, Ainiktozoon loganese , a Thylacocephala, which was once thought to be an ancestral chordate, but is now thought to be a peculiar-looking crustacean. The trilobite in the same picture is Calymene blumenbachii . Both lived in Silurian Great Britain.

In insects, head is a preferred term.

Chelicerates and crustaceans

In chelicerates and crustaceans, the cephalothorax is derived from the fusion of the cephalon and the thorax, and is usually covered by a single unsegmented carapace. In relation with the arthropod head problem, phylogeny studies show that members of the Malacostraca class of crustaceans have five segments in the cephalon, when not fused with the thorax to form a cephalothorax.

Chelicerata subphylum of arthropods

The subphylum Chelicerata constitutes one of the major subdivisions of the phylum Arthropoda. It contains the sea spiders, arachnids, and several extinct lineages, such as the eurypterids.

Crustacean subphylum of arthropods

Crustaceans form a large, diverse arthropod taxon which includes such familiar animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimps, prawns, krill, woodlice, and barnacles. The crustacean group is usually treated as a class under subphylum Mandibulata and because of recent molecular studies it is now well accepted that the crustacean group is paraphyletic, and comprises all animals in the Pancrustacea clade other than hexapods. Some crustaceans are more closely related to insects and other hexapods than they are to certain other crustaceans.


The cephalothorax, also called prosoma in some groups, is a tagma of various arthropods, comprising the head and the thorax fused together, as distinct from the abdomen behind. The word cephalothorax is derived from the Greek words for head and thorax. This fusion of the head and thorax is seen in chelicerates and crustaceans; in other groups, such as the Hexapoda, the head remains free of the thorax. In horseshoe crabs and many crustaceans, a hard shell called the carapace covers the cephalothorax.


In the Late Precambrian or Lower Cambrian Proarticulata species Praecambridium sigillum , that superficially resembles a trilobite, the term is also used to describe the anterior part of the animal.

Proarticulata Extinct phylum of animals

Proarticulata is an extinct phylum of very early, superficially bilaterally symmetrical animals known from fossils found in the Ediacaran (Vendian) marine deposits, and dates to approximately 567 to 550 million years ago. The name comes from the Greek προ = "before" and Articulata, i.e. prior to animals with true segmentation such as annelids and arthropods. This phylum was established by Mikhail A. Fedonkin in 1985 for such animals as Dickinsonia, Vendia, Cephalonega, Praecambridium and currently many other Proarticulata are described.


The head of the Thylacocephala is also referred to as a cephalon. Thylacocephala are a unique group of extinct arthropods, with possible crustacean affinities, thought to occur from the lower Cambrian, but with certainty between the Lower Silurian and the Upper Cretaceous.

Thylacocephala unique group of extinct arthropods

The Thylacocephala are a unique group of extinct arthropods, with possible crustacean affinities. As a class they have a short research history, having been erected in the early 1980s. They typically possess a large, laterally flattened carapace that encompasses the entire body. The compound eyes tend to be large and bulbous, and occupy a frontal notch on the carapace. They possess three pairs of large raptorial limbs, and the abdomen bears a battery of small swimming limbs. The earliest thylacocephalan fossil is thought to date from the lower Cambrian, while the class has a definite presence in Lower Silurian marine communities. As a group, the Thylacocephala survived to the Upper Cretaceous. Beyond this, there remains much uncertainty concerning fundamental aspects of the thylacocephalan anatomy, mode of life, and relationship to the Crustacea, with whom they have always been cautiously aligned.

The Silurian is a geologic period and system spanning 24.6 million years from the end of the Ordovician Period, at 443.8 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Devonian Period, 419.2 Mya. The Silurian is the shortest period of the Paleozoic Era. As with other geologic periods, the rock beds that define the period's start and end are well identified, but the exact dates are uncertain by several million years. The base of the Silurian is set at a series of major Ordovician–Silurian extinction events when up to 60% of marine genera were wiped out.


The tagmata in a trilobite Trilobite sections-en.svg
The tagmata in a trilobite
Morphology of the Trilobite cephalon
Trilobite cranidium numbered.svg
1 – fixigena; 2 – librigena; 3 – glabella
Trilobite cephalon areas numbered.svg
1 – preocular area; 2 – palpebral area; 3 – postocular area; 4 – posterolateral projection; 5 – occipital ring; 6 – glabella; 7 – posterior area; 8 – lateral border; 9 – librigenal area; 10 – preglabellar area
Cephalon of the trilobite Phacops rana from the Devonian of northwestern Ohio. PhacopidDevonian.jpg
Cephalon of the trilobite Phacops rana from the Devonian of northwestern Ohio.

The cephalon of trilobites is highly variable with a lot of morphological complexity. The glabella, the expression of the axial lobe in the cephalon, forms a dome underneath which sat the "crop" or "stomach". Generally the exoskeleton has few distinguishing ventral features, but the cephalon often preserves muscle attachment scars and occasionally the hypostome, a small rigid plate comparable to the ventral plate in other arthropods. A toothless mouth and stomach sat upon the hypostome with the mouth facing backwards at the rear edge of the hypostome.

Trilobite class of arthropods (fossil)

Trilobites are a group of extinct marine arachnomorph arthropods that form the class Trilobita. Trilobites form one of the earliest-known groups of arthropods. The first appearance of trilobites in the fossil record defines the base of the Atdabanian stage of the Early Cambrian period, and they flourished throughout the lower Paleozoic era before beginning a drawn-out decline to extinction when, during the Devonian, all trilobite orders except the Proetids died out. Trilobites disappeared in the mass extinction at the end of the Permian about 252 million years ago. The trilobites were among the most successful of all early animals, existing in oceans for almost 300 million years.

Hypostome (trilobite)

The hypostome is the hard mouthpart of trilobites found on the ventral side of the cephalon (head). The hypostome can be classified into three types based on whether they are permanently attached to the rostrum or not and whether they are aligned to the anterior dorsal tip of the glabella.

Hypostome morphology is highly variable; sometimes supported by an un-mineralised membrane (natant), sometimes fused onto the anterior doublure with an outline very similar to the glabella above (conterminant) or fused to the anterior doublure with an outline significantly different from the glabella (impendent). Many variations in shape and placement of the hypostome have been described. [1] The size of the glabella and the lateral fringe of the cephalon, together with hypostome variation, have been linked to different lifestyles, diets and specific ecological niches. [2]

Ecological niche The fit of a species living under specific environmental conditions.

In ecology, a niche is the match of a species to a specific environmental condition. It describes how an organism or population responds to the distribution of resources and competitors and how it in turn alters those same factors. "The type and number of variables comprising the dimensions of an environmental niche vary from one species to another [and] the relative importance of particular environmental variables for a species may vary according to the geographic and biotic contexts".

The lateral fringe of the cephalon is greatly exaggerated in the Harpetida, in other species a bulge in the pre-glabellar area is preserved that suggests a brood pouch. [3] Highly complex compound eyes are another obvious feature of the cephalon.

Facial sutures

When trilobites moulted, the librigenae ("free cheeks") separated along the facial suture to assist moulting, leaving the cranidium (glabella + fixigenae) exposed. Trilobite facial sutures can be roughly divided into three main types (proparian, gonatoparian, and opisthoparian) according to where the sutures end relative to the genal angle (the edges where the side and rear margins of the cephalon converge). Early Cambrian trilobites belonging to the suborder Olenellina (like Fallotaspis ) lacked facial sutures. Other later trilobites also lost facial sutures secondarily. [4]

See also

Related Research Articles

Agnostida order of arthropods (fossil)

Agnostida is an order of arthropod which first developed near the end of the Early Cambrian period and thrived during the Middle Cambrian. They are present in the Lower Cambrian fossil record along with trilobites from the Redlichiida, Corynexochida, and Ptychopariida orders. The last agnostids went extinct in the Late Ordovician.

Redlichiida order of arthropods (fossil)

Redlichiida is an order of trilobites, a group of extinct marine arthropods. Species assigned to the order Redlichiida are among the first trilobites to appear in the fossil record, about halfway during the Lower Cambrian. Due to the difficulty to relate sediments in different areas, there remains some discussion, but among the earliest are Fallotaspis, and Lemdadella, both belonging to this order. The first representatives of the orders Corynexochida and Ptychopariida also appear very early on and may prove to be even earlier than any redlichiid species. In terms of anatomical comparison, the earliest redlichiid species are probably ancestral to all other trilobite orders and share many primitive characters. The last redlichiid trilobites died out before the end of the Middle Cambrian.

<i>Dalmanites</i> genus of trilobites

Dalmanites is a genus of trilobite in the order Phacopida. They lived from the Late Ordovician to Middle Devonian.

<i>Paradoxides</i> genus of trilobites

Paradoxides is a genus of large to very large trilobites found throughout the world during the Mid Cambrian period. One record-breaking specimen of Paradoxides davidis is 37 cm (15 in). It has a semicircular head, free cheeks each ending with a long, narrow, recurved spine, and sickle-shaped eyes, providing almost 360° view, but only in the horizontal plane. Its elongated trunk was composed of 19-21 segments and was adorned with longish, recurved lateral spines. Its pygidium was comparatively small. Paradoxides is a characteristic Middle Cambrian trilobite of the 'Atlantic' (Avalonian) fauna. Avalonian rocks were deposited near a small continent called Avalonia in the Paleozoic Iapetus Ocean. Avalonian beds are now in a narrow strip along the East Coast of North America, and in Europe.

Redlichiina suborder of arthropods (fossil)

Redlichiina is a suborder of the order Redlichiida of Trilobites. The suborder contains three superfamilies: Emuelloidea, Redlichioidea and Paradoxidoidea. These trilobites are some of the oldest trilobites known. They originated at the beginning of the Cambrian Period and disappeared at the end of the middle Cambrian.

In biology a tagma is a specialized grouping of multiple segments or metameres into a coherently functional morphological unit. Familiar examples are the head, the thorax, and the abdomen of insects. The segments within a tagma may be either fused or so jointed as to be independently moveable.

<i>Olenoides</i> genus of trilobites

Olenoides was a trilobite from the Cambrian period. Its fossils are found well-preserved in the Burgess Shale in Canada. It grew up to 10 cm long.

<i>Dikelocephalus</i> genus of trilobites

Dikelocephalus is a genus of very large trilobites of up to 50 cm (20 in) long, that lived during the last 3 million years of the Cambrian (Sunwaptan). Their fossils are commonly found as disarticulated sclerites, in the upper Mississippi Valley and in Canada (Alberta). The exoskeleton is rounded anteriorly, with the thorax and sides of the tailshield slightly tapering to about ⅔× of the width across the base of the spines at the back of the headshield. At the side corners of the pygidium there may be triangular or hooked spines, pointing backwards, while between the spines the posterior margin is at a 30-75° angle with the lateral margin, gently convex or nearly straight. If pygidial spines are lacking, the margin is gradually rounded. The thorax has 12 segments.


Acidiscus is an extinct genus of eodiscinid agnostid trilobites. It lived during the Botomian stage of the Cambrian period.

<i>Pagetia</i> genus of trilobites

Pagetia is a genus of very small, agnostid trilobites, assigned to the family Eodiscidae, and that had a global distribution during the Middle Cambrian. The genus contains 55 currently recognized species, each with a limited spatial and temporal distribution.

<i>Phytophilaspis</i> genus of arthropods (fossil)

Phytophilaspis is a phosphatized genus of trilobite-like arthropod with eyes, found in association with algal remains. It dwelt in well-lit, shallow waters.

<i>Conocoryphe</i> genus of primarily eyeless trilobites belonging to the family Conocoryphidae

Conocoryphe is a genus of primarily eyeless trilobites belonging to the family Conocoryphidae. They lived during the Middle Cambrian period, about 505 million years ago. These arthropods lived on the sea bottom (epifaunal) and lived off dead particulate organic matter.

<i>Odontochile</i> genus of trilobites

Odontochile is a genus of trilobites in the order Phacopida, family Dalmanitidae.

Richterops genus of trilobites (fossil)

Richterops is an extinct genus of trilobite arthropods. The genus lived during the middle of the Atdabanian or the early part of the Botomian stage, which lasted from approximately 524 to 518.5 million years ago. This faunal stage was part of the second half of the Lower Cambrian. It has been found in southern Morocco. It can be recognised by the long spines of the headshield that are a smooth continuation of the frontal edge, and the enlarged spines on the 11th segment of the thorax.

Eodiscina suborder of arthropods (fossil)

Eodiscina is a suborder of trilobite arthropods. The Eodiscina first developed near the end of the Lower Cambrian period and became extinct at the end of the Middle Cambrian. Species are tiny to small, and have a thorax of two or three segments. Eodiscina includes six families classified under one superfamily, Eodiscoidea.

Tannudiscus is an extinct genus from a well-known class of fossil marine arthropods, the trilobites. It lived during the upper Lower Cambrian, with remains found in Canada (Newfoundland), China (Gansu), The United Kingdom (England), and the Russian Federation.


Serrodiscus is an extinct genus from a well-known class of fossil marine arthropods, the trilobites. It has been collected from the Lower Cambrian of Canada, Germany (Silesia), Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom (Wales) and the United States. It is named for the spines on the ventral side of the tailshield (or pygidium, which give it a serrated impression.

<i>Viaphacops</i> genus of arthropods (fossil)

Viaphacops is a genus of trilobites in the order Phacopida, family Phacopidae, that lived during the Middle Devonian, and is known from North and South America, Asia.


  1. Fortey, 1990
  2. Fortey, 2004
  3. Fortey, R. A.; Hughs, N. C. (1998), "Brood pouches in trilobites", Journal of Paleontology , 72: 639–649.
  4. Chris Clowes (April 15, 2006). "Trilobite Origins". Peripatus. Archived from the original on May 14, 2011. Retrieved April 13, 2011.