Gooseneck Barnacle

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Conrad C. Labandeira, Ph.D.

Conrad Labandiera

Dr. Conrad C. Labandeira is a research scientist and curator of fossil arthropods at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Conrad’s interests include the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems revealed by the fossil insect record and the deep-time feeding relationships of insects with plants. His interest in insects and plants began on his father’s small farm in California’s Central Valley, where he observed the way aphids were consumed by ladybug beetle larvae. As an undergraduate, he became fascinated with plant and insect fossils. For his master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he worked on Cambrian trilobite taxonomy. For his doctoral program at the University of Chicago,Conrad evaluated insect feeding styles for the past 410 million years by examining the fossil insect record in the context of modern insect mouthparts. As a postdoctoral scholar (or “postdoc”) at the University of Illinois, he studied insect-caused damage in petrified peat tissues of ancient swamp deposits. Conrad joined the Smithsonian in 1992 and has research programs on every continent except Antarctica. They include responses of insects and plant associations to major crises such as extinction events and global climate change (South Africa, western North America); origins of ecological and evolutionary diversity in the Neotropics (Argentina); evaluation of insect herbivory, pollination and mimicry of mid Mesozoic ecosystems (northeastern China); and comparisons of modern insect herbivory with the fossil record (Panama, western Europe).

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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Modern burrowing barnacle (Acrothoracica)
Courtesy of Jaclyn McCormick, via Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD), CC-BY-NC-SA

About Barnacles, Copepods, and Relatives (Class Maxillopoda)

Maxillopods have been around since the mid-Cambrian, about 510 million years ago. Their shortened bodies and juvenile external features make them look like larvae. One hypothesis is that the common ancestors of all maxillopods were organisms that became reproductively mature before their bodies changed into externally adult forms (neoteny). The oldest known fossil maxillopod is a barnacle (Priscansermarinus barnetti). Unlike the barnacles of today, this species did not have an external protective shell. Later maxillopods were shelled, but their fossil record is patchy, in many cases consisting of just shell fragments. Because maxillopods often live in turbulent environments, like rocky shorelines, their remains get broken up. Beginning during the Early Devonian (about 415 million years ago), common maxillopod fossils are casts of borings where barnacles drilled into shells of other animals. Sediments infilled the boreholes and fossilized, creating trace fossils in the shape of the boreholes. Copepods are another group of tiny maxillopods that are now abundant and diverse, but are nearly absent from the fossil record.

Fossil crab claw
Photo by John Steiner, Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History

About Arthropods (Phylum Arthropoda): Paleobiology

Arthropods have been on Earth for more than 540 million years, and were diverse almost from the beginning. Different lineages of arthropods, such as crustaceans, diverged as early as 525 million years ago. The evolution of an external body covering (the exoskeleton), and the presence of body segments and paired appendages (mouthparts, legs, claws, antennae) signaled the transition from early worm-like precursors to arthropods. While modern arthropods live in nearly every habitat, the earliest arthropods were probably tiny, bottom-dwellers scavenging detritus at the bottom of warm seas. The enormous success of arthropods is at least partly due to their appendages. Located on all body regions, their appendages became specialized especially for feeding through the mouthparts, but also for getting oxygen through respiration (gills), reproducing (elaborate external genitalia), and moving around including walking, swimming, and/or flying. The gradual adoption of a modular body plan with multifunctional appendages has allowed arthropods to thrive in an impressive variety of environments.