Jawless fishes belong to the superclass Agnatha in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata. Agnatha comes from the Greek, and means "no jaws". It excludes all vertebrates with jaws, known as gnathostomes. Although a minor element of modern marine fauna, jawless fish were prominent among the early fish in the early Paleozoic. Two types of Early Cambrian animal apparently having fins, vertebrate musculature, and gills are known from the early Cambrian Maotianshan shales of China: Haikouichthys and Myllokunmingia. They have been tentatively assigned to Agnatha by Janvier. A third possible agnathid from the same region is Haikouella. A possible agnathid that has not been formally described was reported by Simonetti from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale of British Columbia. Many Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian agnathians were armoured with heavy bony-spiky plates. The first armoured agnathansЧthe Ostracoderms, precursors to the bony fish and hence to the tetrapods (including humans)Чare known from the middle Ordovician, and by the Late Silurian the agnathans had reached the high point of their evolution. Most of the ostracoderms, such as thelodonts, osteostracans, and galeaspids, were more closely related to the gnathostomes than to the surviving agnathans, known as cyclostomes. Cyclostomes apparently split from other agnathans before the evolution of dentine and bone, which are present in many fossil agnathans, including conodonts. Agnathans declined in the Devonian and never recovered. The agnathans as a whole are paraphyletic, because most extinct agnathans belong to the stem group of gnathostomes. Recent molecular data, both from rRNA and from mtDNA strongly supports the theory that living agnathans, known as cyclostomes, are monophyletic. In phylogenetic taxonomy, the relationships between animals are not typically divided into ranks, but illustrated as a nested "family tree" known as a cladogram. Phylogenetic groups are given definitions based on their relationship to one another, rather than purely on physical traits such as the presence of a backbone. This nesting pattern is often combined with traditional taxonomy, in a practice known as evolutionary taxonomy. Conodonts resembled primitive jawless eels. They appeared 495 Ma and were wiped out 200 Ma. Initially they were known only from tooth-like microfossils called conodont elements. These "teeth" have been variously interpreted as filter-feeding appa
atuses or as a "grasping and crushing array". Conodonts ranged in length from a centimeter to the 40 cm Promissum. Their large eyes had a lateral position of which makes a predatory role unlikely. The preserved musculature hints that some conodonts (Promissum at least) were efficient cruisers but incapable of bursts of speed. In 2012 researchers classify the conodonts in the phylum Chordata on the basis of their fins with fin rays, chevron-shaped muscles and notochord. Some researchers see them as vertebrates similar in appearance to modern hagfish and lampreys, though phylogenetic analysis suggests that they are more derived than either of these groups. OstracodermsЖ Ostracoderms (extinct) were armoured jawless fishes Ostracoderms (shell-skinned) are armoured jawless fishes of the Paleozoic. The term does not often appear in classifications today because it is paraphyletic or polyphyletic, and has no phylogenetic meaning. However, the term is still used informally to group together the armoured jawless fishes. The ostracoderm armour consisted of 3Ц5 mm polygonal plates which shielded the head and gills, and then overlapped further down the body like scales. The eyes were particularly shielded. Earlier chordates used their gills for both respiration and feeding, whereas ostracoderms used their gills for respiration only. They had up to eight separate pharyngeal gill pouches along the side of the head, which were permanently open with no protective operculum. Unlike invertebrates that use ciliated motion to move food, ostracoderms used their muscular pharynx to create a suction that pulled small and slow moving prey into their mouths. The first fossil fishes that were discovered were ostracoderms. The Swiss anatomist Louis Agassiz received some fossils of bony armored fish from Scotland in the 1830s. He had a hard time classifying them as they did not resemble any living creature. He compared them at first with extant armored fish such as catfish and sturgeons but later realizing that they had no movable jaws, classified them in 1844 into a new group "ostracoderms". Ostracoderms existed in two major groups, the more primitive heterostracans and the cephalaspids. Later, about 420 million years ago, the jawed fish evolved from one of the ostracoderms. After the appearance of jawed fish, most ostracoderm species underwent a decline, and the last ostracoderms became extinct at the end of the Devonian period.