Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June 2011 Fossil of the Month


Trilobites, meaning "three lobes”, are a well-known fossil group of extinct marine arthropods that form the class Trilobita. The first appearance of trilobites in the fossil record dates back to the early Cambrian period approximately 526 million years ago. They flourished throughout the lower Paleozoic era before beginning a drawn-out decline to extinction when, during the Devonian, all trilobite orders with the sole exception of Proetida, died out. Trilobites finally disappeared in the mass extinction at the end of the Permian about 250 million years ago. The trilobites were among the most successful of all early animals, roaming the oceans for over 270 million years.

When trilobites first appeared in the fossil record they were already highly diverse and geographically dispersed. Because trilobites had wide diversity and an easily fossilized exoskeleton an extensive fossil record was left, with some 17,000 known species spanning the Paleozoic era. The study of these fossils has facilitated important contributions to biostratigraphy, paleontology, evolutionary biology and plate tectonics.

Trilobites had many life styles; some moved over the sea-bed as predators, scavengers or filter feeders and some swam, feeding on plankton. Most life styles expected of modern marine arthropods are seen in trilobites, with the possible exception of parasitism where there is still some scientific debate. Some trilobites are even thought to have evolved a symbiotic relationship with sulfur-eating bacteria from which they derived food. Trilobites range in length from .04 inch to 28 inches, with a typical size range of 1-4 inches. The world's largest trilobite, Isotelus rex, was found in 1998 by Canadian scientists in Ordovician rocks on the shores of Hudson Bay. It measured 28 inches long by 16 inches wide by 3 inches high.