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Brachiopods are very common fossils, but some are still alive today.

Brachiopods live inside a two-part shell. They look similar to bivalve molluscs (like cockles and mussels) but are not related to them. All brachiopods have a filter called a lophophore which they use to catch small particles of food that float past them in the water. They live in the sea, and most are attached to the sea-floor by a fleshy stalk (a 'pedicle').

Shell of recent brachiopod Shell of recent brachiopod
The shells of recent brachiopods.

Brachiopods first appeared over 500 million years ago, and some types (such as Lingula, which lives in a burrow) have changed very little over this period of time. However, brachiopods are quite rare today. In Britain they are only found in a few Scottish sea-lochs.

Fossil brachiopod Fossil brachiopod
Fossil brachiopods were so common at one time they used to form reefs.

Brachiopods are important fossils for palaeontologists to study. Different types of brachiopod lived at different times, in different places, and in different environments. Because of this, brachiopod fossils can tell us the age of a rock, and other important information. The chemical composition of a brachiopod shell can even tell us the temperature of the sea-water when it was alive.

If you read these pages you should become an expert invertebrate identifier!
The major groups are listed below - select a link to learn more about this type of fossil.

Sponges Corals
Molluscs Brachiopods
Arthropods Graptolites
Echinoderms Return to the wheel

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