Nannotax3 - ntax_cenozoic - Sphenolithaceae <title>Nannotax3 - ntax_cenozoic - Sphenolithaceae


Classification: ntax_cenozoic -> Discoasterales -> Sphenolithaceae
Sister taxa: Discoasteraceae, Fasciculithaceae, Heliolithaceae, Sphenolithaceae

Daughter taxa (time control age-window is: 0-800Ma)Granddaughter taxa
Conical nannoliths with a concave base, consisting of a mass of elements radiating from a common origin.
S. moriformis group
S. heteromorphus group
S. delphix group
S. capricornutus group
S. dissimilis group
S. furcatolithoides group
S. radians group
S. anarrhopus group
Sphenolithus sp.

Middle Eocene and Oigocene sphenoliths with duocrystalline/bifid spines and monocyclic base.


Citation: Sphenolithaceae Deflandre 1952
Rank: Family
Taxonomic discussion: We follow Howe (2021) in subdividing the family into two genera - Sphenolithus and Furcatolithus. The genus Furcatolithus comprises the predistentus-distentus-ciperoensis lineage, which is clearly separated from the other sphenoliths.

Distinguishing features:
Parent taxon (Discoasterales): Radially symmetrical nannoliths formed from one to several separate cycles of elements that radiate from a common centre or axis.
This taxon: Conical discoasteralids with a concave base, consisting of a mass of elements radiating from a common origin.

Farinacci & Howe catalog pages: Sphenolithaceae [no catalog entry yet]


Sphenolith structure: The individual elements of sphenoliths are elongated parallel to their c-axis (this is clear from light microscopy), and consist of three lath-like blades arranged in a Y-shaped form. This morphology is visible in SEMs of specimens from samples with very good preservation, or slight etching. With overgrowth the spaces between the segments become infilled and the elements develop a spinose form. The triple lath form is probably related to the trigonal symmetry of calcite, with laths developing parallel to the x-axes.
The elements radiate from a single origin, which gives the sphenoliths a compact form, and a clear extinction-cross, in polarized light. The proximal part of all sphenolith species is composed of a single cycle of 8 to 16 of these elements. The axes of the proximal elements slope down from the median plane. A concave base is formed by laths from adjacent elements meeting.
The upper half of sphenoliths is normally formed of two or three cycles of elements, radiating from the centre, at decreasing angles to the vertical. The details of the structure are, however, variable; particularly toward the apex, which gives rise to a large amount of species level variation.
See Howe 2021 for updated discussion.


Ecology & Biogeography

Biology & life-cycles

Phylogenetic relations
Sphenoliths first appear in the Palaeocene and go extinct in the mid Pliocene. They show some similarities to Fasciculithaceae and are thought to have similar origins.

Search data:
Lith size: 2->20µm;
The morphological data given here can be used on the advanced search page. See also these notes

Geological Range:
Last occurrence (top): near base of Piacenzian Stage (14% up, 3.5Ma, in Piacenzian stage). Data source: Total of range of species in this database
First occurrence (base): near top of Danian Stage (90% up, 62.1Ma, in Danian stage). Data source: Total of range of species in this database

Plot of occurrence data:


Deflandre, G. (1952). Classe des Coccolithophoridés. (Coccolithophoridae. Lohmann, 1902). In, Grassé, P. P. (ed.) Traité de Zoologie. Masson, Paris 439-470. gs V O

Howe, R. (2021). Ultrastructure and taxonomy of the family Sphenolithaceae. Journal of Nannoplankton Research. 39(1): 29-75. gs O

Perch-Nielsen, K. (1985a). Cenozoic calcareous nannofossils. In, Bolli, H. M., Saunders, J. B. & Perch-Nielsen, K. (eds) Plankton Stratigraphy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 427-555. gs


Sphenolithaceae compiled by Jeremy R. Young, Paul R. Bown, Jacqueline A. Lees viewed: 8-2-2023

Taxon Search:
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Short stable page link: Go to to create a permanent copy of this page - citation notes

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