Barnacles are classified as cirriped crustaceans and belong to phylum Arthropoda (a large group that also includes trilobites, crabs, insects, etc.). The name "cirriped" (cirri, curl; ped, foot) refers to the six pairs of delicate appendages which are used for filter feeding.
Barnacles are not very different from other arthropods in that they hatch as an egg, have a short existence as free-swimming larval forms, and molt (shed) to grow larger. In adult life, however, barnacles do not resemble other arthropods at all. With a shelly (calcareous) covering of many plates enclosing their shrimp-like body, most barnacles grow attached to hard substrate. Genus Megabalanus Hoek, 1913, one of the so-called “acorn" barnacles, is common in the fossil and modern-day record of the eastern Pacific.
Few people know that Charles Darwin, yes, that Charles Darwin, was an expert on barnacles. He derived some of his concepts about evolution based on his detailed studies of them.
|bivalve shell is 3.4 cm in diameter|
A bivalve shell (the "jingle" shell Anomia) with a large Megabalanus base (circular) at the top of the shell and 15 Megabalanus shells elsewhere on the shell. These fossils are of late Pleistocene age from the vicinity of Long Beach, Los Angeles County, southern California.
|large barnacle is 1.5 cm high|
A Megabalanus shell encrusting a shallow-marine gastropod shell, and a small Balanus shell encrusting the larger Megabalanus shell. All of these fossils are of late Pleistocene age from the same locality as those shown in the previous image.
|acorn-barnacle operculum: smaller parts are 4.5 mm length;|
larger parts are approximately 5.5 mm length
Covering the top of an acorn-barnacle shell is a calcareous structure consisting of four interlocking plates. These two pairs of plates close together, just like a tight-fitting “lid,” used when the barnacle is not feeding or when it is disturbed. The opercular plates, which show continuous growth records (like tree rings) and are not shed during molting. Upon death of the animal, these plates eventually fall apart, thus they are mostly missing on fossil barnacles. The pair of plates shown (above) on the left are called terga, and those on the right are called scuta.
|cluster is 2.2 cm wide|
The image shown above is a small cluster of modern-day barnacles with their opercular plates in life position. These are specimens of Balanus amphitrite saltonensis Rogers, 1949 from the Salton "Sea," an inland lake with very salty waters in southeastern California. This lake was created by accident in the early 1900's, when an aqueduct overflowed. This subspecies of barnacle, which is closely allied to the globally widespread B. a. amphitrite Darwin, 1854, was introduced into the lake. This introduction was most likely via migratory water birds.
|cluster is 21 cm in maximum dimension|
|each component is 2.8 cm length|
These four images above show the exterior (above) and the interior (below) of two scuta of Tamiosoma gregarious found in Pliocene beds in the central San Joaquin Valley of central California. These are unusual finds.
|2.6 cm height|
This is the side view of a modern-day "gooseneck" barnacle (Pollicipes polymers) from a rocky intertidal zone in the vicinity of Goleta, Santa Barbara County, California. Notice the leathery stalk (pedicle) which is used by the barnacle to attach to rock. The stalk does not get preserved, thus, in the fossil record all one can find are the individual calcareous plates that make up the upper part of the animal.
The geologic time range of barnacles is Paleozoic (Silurian) to Holocene [= modern day]. Gooseneck barnacles evolved first. "Acorn" barnacles did not appear until the early Cenozoic.
|3.5 cm maximum diameter|
Lastly, I show an image of the barnacle genus Chelonibia, which attaches to the carapaces of sea turtles. This modern-day specimen is from Baja California Sur, Mexico.