Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Few efforts have been made to understand trilobites as successfully as those that lead to the creation of A Guide to the Orders of Trilobites, an immense and evolving online archive of information gathered together and synthesized by Sam Gon III.
To augment his understanding of modern biodiversity, he sought to learn more about biodiversity in ancient times. His ongoing work to understand all he could about trilobites' biology, morphology and orders created a resource referenced and enjoyed by many.
In order to clarify the sometimes confusing images in photographs, illustrations have been helpful to biologists and paleontologists seeking to understand structural relationships and differences among organisms. Careful observation and interpretation of ambiguous morphological aspects of biological attributes is essential to our comprehension of organisms' physicality.
For this purpose, Sam has created detailed images of many trilobite species. These drawings can aid our understanding, but also allow us to appreciate the extreme beauty and variety exhibited by trilobites. When faced with these images, it's difficult to imagine that our world's oceans were once filled with creatures of such alien designs for so many millions of years, but they were.
Many of these drawings have been posted online in a photo archive. Take some time and look closely at the amazing diversity and mind-boggling morphology of the vanished trilobites.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Trilobites have inspired humans to find new ways to comprehend and appreciate the amazing beauty of their forms. Some have chosen paint, but others have used paper to covey their compelling curiosity about these complex creatures. No one can contest the striking beauty of "Trilobite: Terataspis grandis" by Tiffany Miller. Her skillfully executed paper sculpture shows an in depth comprehension of her subject.
Playful exploration of the fossil world is possible with this do-it-yourself paper model from the Australian Geological Survey Association(above). Patience and precision are required to complete the complex folds needed to construct a paper trilobite such as the one below. It takes a devoted designer and enthusiastic creators to bring a life form from the ancient past into our world with just a single sheet of creased paper.
This paper mache trilobite is another playful example of our lasting fascination with these incredible arthropods, and our unceasing desire to bring their astonishing beauty into our lives.
A series of paper trilobite models is available for download allowing anyone to build more than twenty different types of trilobite and also a horseshoe crab. Why stop at only one of each type? Why not create a healthy swarm of paper trilobites?
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Isotelus rex, the biggest trilobite ever found, was discovered in northern Manitoba. It was over 70 cm long and it lived 445 million years ago, when much of North America was covered by shallow seas. The fossil represents a new species of the genus Isotelus, a group characterized by rounded features and a lack of protruding ornamentation. Most of the other Isotelus trilobites are much smaller than Isotelus rex, which is 30 cm longer than the largest trilobites previously discovered. The chart below, created by Sam Gon III, compares Isotelus rex with some of the other large trilobites, and a familiar object for scale reference.
Isotelus rex was one of the biggest arthropods that ever lived, with the same body length as Mike, the largest lobster ever recorded. Most of the other trilobites were between 3 and 10 cm long. Dr Graham Young said: "We have found a very unusual specimen that illustrates some of the diversity and weirdness of ancient life. A trilobite of this size really is an amazing discovery." Below is an artist's interperetation of how Isotelus Rex may have looked when alive.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Sometimes, a trilobite obsession transcends mere appreciation and becomes an expression of devotion. Who, but the most ardent trilobitophiles would want to transform an everyday object into a shrine to those enigmatic arthropods? Who, but they, would take the time and effort to transform themselves into giant trilobites (above)?
In a world that seems to moving towards allowing greater individual expression, some have chosen to ornament their surroundings with trilobite imagery. Ken Duffy's art car, "Prius Torik", is an example of the lengths people will go to in order to show others how much they love trilobites. For them, trilobites embody the indomitable living spirit. A well placed trilobite can also communicate quirky surreality, and in the case of "The Trilobite Machine" (below), they seem to symbolize the hybridization of biology and technology. The juxtaposition of ancient fossilized trilobites with modern technological hardware speaks to humans' ongoing effort to understand the totality of Earth's temporal landscape.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
For as long as we've known about the existence of trilobites, we've used our imagination to seek the only glimpses possible of their once living forms and the world they inhabited. This has lead to the creation of works of haunting beauty and surreality, as artists have used their talents to visualize our world as it was millions of years ago when the seas were ruled by trilobites. The dreamlike image above was created digitally by Karen Carr for The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology .
Earlier attempts to depict of the ancient sea floor and it's inhabitants show another artist's view of the world of the trilobite. Images like these have inspired the curious to delve even deeper into the vanished worlds of prehistory. Has anyone come close to correctly recreating the seas of the distant past? Until we devise a way to look into Earth's prehistory no one can be sure, but more efforts will be made to imagine life as it may have been, and maybe one vision will come close to revealing the ocean world as it really was.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Is our fascination with trilobites growing? Are more people being made aware of their presence in our planet's prehistory? It would seem to be so, if an emerging faction of trilobites in the toy market is any indication. Only a few years ago, there were few if any trilobite toys available for public consumption. Go back twenty years, and there were none. Now toys like Olenoides serratus (above) from the Primeval Predators toy set are here to entertain and elucidate!
Another bizarre offering is Trilomonk (above), the creation of Kathy Staico-Schorr. In this case a trilobite serves as the mount for a monkey holding a human skull. Other creations show a more accurate portrayal of trilobites as fossils (below).
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Trilobites, though long extinct, have continued to inspire artists and designers. Appreciation of their beautiful form has sparked many imaginations, from painters and sculptors, to architects and manufacturers. Even the home appliance industry has offered us a robotic vacuum cleaner that sports both name and design inspired by the trilobite.
What is it about these vanished arthropods that still captivates us, inspiring in some the desire to replicate aspects of their physicality? Part of the answer may lie in humans' innate appreciation of symmetry, and also repetition, two qualities that trilobites almost always possess. But the explanation is likely to be more complex, and deeply varied among individuals. For now we will dispense with explanations and simply examine a smorgasboard of trilobite inspired visions.
One of the most insane trilobite-inspired creations has to be I-Wei Huang's steam powered trilobite tank. He describes this as a last minute retooling of his damaged steam spider. It takes mad genius to turn the tragedy of a broken robot into a trilobite triumph. His trilobite tank won best in show at the 2006 Robogames.
This amazing architectural adornment was photographed in New York by gargoyle photographer Mark Williams. It and another were spotted during his photographic sojourns. Its creator remains unknown, but that creator's fascination with trilobites is still very tangible.
Even toy designers, in this case from Japan, have been compelled to create items that appeal to our natural curiosity about these strange and inspiringly beautiful creatures. The most amazing thing is the way we continue to find new ways to express our fascination with trilobites. This rubber stamp created by an artist in Australia is simply exquisite.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Photo by C. Gronau
Is is possible that any trilobites survived beyond the Permian extinction, 250 million years ago? Is there evidence of trilobites surviving in modern times? I think we can safely say no to both of those questions, but there are some modern creatures with compelling similarities to the vanished and ancient arthropod group known as trilobites.
The serolid isopod above is an amazing example of how contemporary creatures with lifestyles similar to the presumed lifestyles of trilobites can adapt a similar appearance. Though outwardly appearing to resemble a trilobite, this animal is actually a relative of crabs and lobsters. Isopods are extremely numerous and adaptable, living in virtually every marine environment, including the Antarctic and deep ocean. They also live under rocks and decaying plants on land.
The young of the Madagascar hissing cockroach is better able to forage through jungle leaf litter and hide from potential predators because of its flattened, trilobite-like form, but this creature is an insect. Another insect known as the trilobite beetle got its name for obvious reasons...
It's also easy to see the superficial resemblance of horseshoe crabs to trilobite fossils, and one would assume these creatures had close kinship, but the horseshoe crabs' lack of calcite lenses in their eyes, as well as other structural differences clearly places them in a group outside of trilobite orders.
Another group of polyplachophoran mollusks known as chitons have fooled beach combing observers into thinking they had stumbled upon fossilized or living trilobites.
It seems that many living creatures find the same benefits of protection and flexibility that served the ancient trilobites by exploiting variations of flattened, segmented armor.