Brittle Star

An historic, but misleading, label

These two starfish are from the ‘Starfish Bed’ between Eype and Seatown. They were intertwined by the force of currents on the sea floor when they became buried and fossilised.

The starfish are displayed with their original museum label, but it has since proved to be incorrect for several reasons.The identification is Ophiura Egertoni, which was correct at the time, but scientists have now reclassified Ophiura as Palaeocoma.

The label also identifies the strata as ‘Green Sand’, but we can tell from looking at the specimens and rock that they are definitely from the starfish bed, which makes the location incorrect as well.

Lastly, the species name should always be in lower case, so ‘egertoni’. This is the convention under the 1961 International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

But sometimes the history behind a specimen is almost as interesting as the fossil itself, so museums retain their old labels for that reason.

Find out more about brittle stars on the echinoderms pages.

Common name

Brittle Star

Scientific name

Palaeocoma egertoni

Type

Echinoderms > Starfish


Strata

Starfish Bed, Eype Clay, Middle Lias

Time period

Lower Jurassic

Age

188 million years

Where found

Unknown

Found by

Unknown

Museum

Dorset County Museum, Dorchester

Accession number

DCM.G.05546-7