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Temporal range: Early Devonian (Lochkovian to Emsian), 415–398 Ma
Digital recreation of Cephalaspis
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Osteostraci
Genus: Cephalaspis
Agassiz, 1835[1]
C. lyelli
Binomial name
Cephalaspis lyelli
Agassiz, 1835

Cephalaspis (from Greek: κεφαλή kephalḗ, 'head' and Greek: ἀσπίς aspís, 'shield') is a possibly monotypic genus of extinct osteostracan agnathan vertebrate. It was a trout-sized detritivorous fish that lived in the early Devonian.


Like its relatives, Cephalaspis was heavily armored, presumably to defend against predatory placoderms and eurypterids, as well as to serve as a source of calcium for metabolic functions in calcium-poor freshwater environments. It had sensory patches along the rim and center of its head shield, which were used to sense for worms and other burrowing organisms in the mud.[citation needed]


Because its mouth was situated directly beneath its head, Cephalaspis was thought of as being a bottom-feeder, akin to a heavily armoured catfish or sturgeon. It moved its plow-like head from side to side, Cephalaspis easily stirring sand and dust into the water, along with revealing the hiding places of its prey, digging up worms or crustaceans hidden in the mud and algae, as well as sifting through detritus (inferred from its lack of jaws and inability to bite).[2]


The genus Cephalaspis has long been used as a wastebasket taxon since Agassiz erected it in 1835 for four species, C. lyelli, C. rostratus, C. lewisi and C. lloydi.[3] Later, it was eventually determined that the last three species were portions of what would eventually be described as the heterostracan Pteraspis rostratus. C. lyelli, named after Sir Charles Lyell,[3] would be left to be the type species of the genus. Other researchers would continue adding other similar-looking osteostracans throughout the decades until, in 2009, Sansom reevaluated Osteostraci, and determined that only C. lyelli could be reliably placed within Cephalaspis, and that probably all other species would eventually need to be reexamined and be placed into other genera.[4] In the same 2009 study, Sansom also determined that Cephalaspis sensu stricto was the sister-taxon of cornuate osteostracans, i.e., all osteostracans that either have, or have ancestors that had defined corners on the head-shields.[4]

Included species[edit]

Cephalaspis lyellii reconstruction
Cephalaspis lyelli fossil
Cephalaspis lyelli fossil

The following is a list of species that have been included into Cephalaspis; most likely do not belong to the genus, but have not been formally moved.[5][6]

  • Cephalaspis lyelli (Agassiz, 1835) (type species)
  • "Cephalaspis" aarhusi (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" agassizi (Lankester, 1868)
  • "Cephalaspis" brevirostris (Denison, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" broughi (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • Cephalaspis cradleyensis (Stensiö, 1932)
  • "Cephalaspis" dissimulata (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" doryphorus (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" fletti (Stensiö, 1932)
  • "Cephalaspis" fraticornis (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" hyperboreus (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" lankestri (Stensiö, 1932)
  • "Cephalaspis" lornensis (Traquair, 1899)
  • "Cephalaspis" microlepidota (Balabai, 1962)
  • "Cephalaspis" novaescotiae (Denison, 1955)
  • "Cephalaspis" platycephalus (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" producta (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" recticornis (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" spinifer (Stensiö, 1923)
  • "Cephalaspis" tenuicornis (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" verrulosa (Wangsjö, 1952)
  • "Cephalaspis" websteri (Stensiö, 1932)
  • "Cephalaspis" whitbachensis (Stensiö, 1932)
  • "Cephalaspis" wyomingensis (Denison, 1952)

Species of Cephalaspis that have been reassigned[edit]

Other miscellaneous species once assigned to Cephalaspis[edit]

  • Cephalaspis abergavenniensis (White, 1963)
  • Cephalaspis acuticornis (Stensiö, 1927)
  • Cephalaspis billcrofti (White & Toombs, 1983)
  • Cephalaspis campbelltonensis (Whiteaves, 1881)
  • Cephalaspis cocculi (MacGillivray, 1921)
  • Cephalaspis cwmmillensis (White & Toombs, 1983)
  • Cephalaspis dawsoni (Lankester, 1870)
  • Cephalaspis djurinensis (Balabai, 1962)
  • Cephalaspis grabrielsei (Dineley & Loeffler, ?)
  • Cephalaspis isachseni (Stensiö, 1927)
  • Cephalaspis jexi (Traquair, 1893)
  • Cephalaspis peninsula (Pageau, 1969)
  • Cephalaspis schrenckii (Pander, ?)
  • Cephalaspis sp. "Forfar" (Trewin & Davidson, 1996)
  • Cephalaspis syndenhami (Pageau, 1969)
  • Cephalaspis traquairi (Stensio, ?)
  • Cephalaspis uternaria (?)
  • Cephalaspis vogti (Stensiö, 1927)
  • Cephalaspis watneliei (Stensiö, 1927)
  • Cephalaspis westolli (Russell, 1954)


  1. ^ L. Agassiz. 1835. Recherches Sur Les Poissons Fossiles. Tome I (livr. 18).
  2. ^ Haines, Tim; Chambers, Paul (2005). The complete guide to prehistoric life. Buffalo, N.Y.: Firefly Books. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-55407-181-4.
  3. ^ a b White, E. I. "On Cephalaspis lyelli Agassiz." Palaeontology 1.2 (1958): 99-105. [1] Archived 2015-10-19 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b Sansom, Robert S. "Phylogeny, classification and character polarity of the Osteostraci (Vertebrata)." Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 7.1 (2009): 95-115. [2]
  5. ^ Groh, S. "Appendix" (PDF). Patterns of diversification in osteostracan evolution (M.S.). Uppsala University.
  6. ^ cephalaspidomorphi at users.atw.hu/fishindex
  7. ^ On the cephalaspid fauna of the Podolian plateau. PP Balabai - aukovi zapysky Naukovo-pryodo-znavcogomuzeâ AN URSR, L'vov, 1962
  8. ^ Preliminary description of Lower Devonian Osteostraci from Podolia (Ukrainian S.S.R.). P Janvier, Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Geology 38(5) pages 309--334 (1985)
  • Janvier, P (1996) Early Vertebrates Oxford University Press;
  • Donoghue and Smith (2001) The anatomy of Turinia pagei (Powrie), and the phylogenetic status of the Thelodonti, Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences, 92, p. 15-37

External links[edit]