Burgessia bella is a characteristic Burgess Shale arthropod (508Ma), but the unusual preservation of its telson in both straight and bent modes leads to contradictory interpretations of its function. A reinvestigation of the fossil material, including burial attitudes, combined with a comparison with the decay sequence and mechanics of the telson in living Limulus, demonstrates that the telson of Burgessia was flexible in its relaxed state but could be stiffened in life. Evidence of fluid within the telson indicates that this manoeuvrability was achieved by changes in hydrostatic pressure and muscular control. The dual mode in the Burgessia telson is, to my knowledge, the first documented among fossil arthropods. It indicates that the requirement for a rigid telson, which is resolved by a thick sclerotized cuticle in most arthropods, may first have been achieved by hydrostatic means.
Keywords: fossil preservation, animal behaviour, arthropod telson, Burgessia, Limulus