Saturday, 13 June 2020


This lovely little biscuit is a Holectypus sea urchin from 120 million-year-old deposits from the Lagniro Formation of Madagascar.

Holectypus are a genus of extinct echinoids related to modern sea urchins and sand dollars. They were abundant from the Jurassic to the Cretaceous (between 200 million and 65.5 million years ago).

This specimen is typical of Holectypus with his delicate five-star pattern adorning a slightly rounded test and flattened bottom. The specimen has been polished and was harvested not for its scientific value but as a curiosity to be sold to rock shops and on sites such as eBay. The specimens from Madagascar are plentiful and often make their way into collections via this commercial route. Fossil fauna from Madagascar are diverse, plentiful and beautifully preserved.

In echinoids, the skeleton is almost always made up of tightly interlocking plates that form a rigid structure or test — in contrast with the more flexible skeletal arrangements of starfish, brittle stars, and sea cucumbers. Test shapes range from nearly globular, as in some sea urchins, to highly flattened, as in sand dollars. 

Living echinoids are covered with spines, which are movable and anchored in sockets in the test. These spines may be long and prominent, as in typical sea urchins and most have lovely raised patterns on their surface. 

I've popped a photo here to show you some of the detail. In sand dollars and heart urchins, however, the spines are very short and form an almost felt-like covering. The mouth of most echinoids is provided with five hard teeth arranged in a circlet, forming an apparatus known as Aristotle’s lantern.

Echinoids are classified by the symmetry of the test, the number and arrangement of plate rows making up the test, and the number and arrangement of respiratory pore rows called petals. Echinoids are divided into two subgroups: regular echinoids, with nearly perfect pentameral (five-part) symmetry; and irregular echinoids with altered symmetry.

Because most echinoids have rigid tests, their ability to fossilize is greater than that of more delicate echinoderms such as starfish, and they are common fossils in many deposits. The oldest echinoids belong to an extinct regular taxon called the Echinocystitoidea. They first appeared in the fossil record in the Late Ordovician. Cidaroids or pencil urchins appear in the Mississippian (Early Carboniferous) and were the only echinoids to survive the mass extinction at the Permo-Triassic boundary. Echinoids did not become particularly diverse until well after the Permo-Triassic mass extinction. True sea urchins first appear in the Late Triassic, cassiduloids in the Jurassic, and spatangoids or heart urchins in the Cretaceous. Sand dollars, a common and diverse group today, do not make an appearance in the fossil record until the Paleocene.