Our Oldest Inventory Is Some Of Our Favorite... Like, really old
521 Million Years Ago...
Like an explosion of shelled confetti, trilobites crawled their way into existence during the early days of life on our planet. Not only did these early pioneers of the primordial earth survive, they thrived! They flourished for almost 280 million years and their fossils can be found on every single continent. Just for reference sake, humans have only been on the earth for about 200,000 years. So how did these seemingly simple creatures become one of the most ubiquitous species during the early years of life on our planet? Glad you asked.
Ocean life was drastically different when the trilobites made their way onto the scene. Most sea creatures were blind and were comparatively simple to today's vast and complex inhabitants of the watery depths. The trilobite, however, was nature's cutting-edge leap into advanced forms of life and were the first organism to develop complex eyes. These eyes weren't like the squishy eyeballs you and I have. Trilobite eyes had a calcite lens (Calcite is a rock-forming mineral that we often find in crystal formations) which allowed each of their eyes to be specifically tuned to see perfectly in their set direction. They literally had crystals for eyes! How cool is that? Considering most ocean life was still attempting to master the prehistoric seeing eye-chart, trilobites had a huge advantage. Along with their ability to spot their next meal, they also developed natural defenses from other predators such as large pointy spines, the ability to roll into a ball much like a pill bug and hardened exoskeletons.
What Happened to the Trilobites?
Even with it's seemingly endless bag of tricks, trilobites died out 250 million years ago in what is called "the great dying". 90% of all life on earth suddenly perished in a cataclysmic event which is still largely unexplained. Theories range from a super volcano erupting, a titanic meteorite crashing into Earth to an early day Y2K. However it happened, it did leave us with plenty of fossil trilobites but these crafty arthropods have one more ace up their sleeves. Most trilobite fossils are actually the molted exoskeleton of the creature left behind from some ancient growing pains. Unlike humans whose skin grows and flexes with our changing bodies, trilobites have to shed their old skins in order to grow larger. Thanks to this somewhat disturbing method of getting swole, we have a wide plethora of trilobite specimens to study and ogle at. While they may be just a page in the ledger of nature, trilobites may provide vital clues about the evolution of life as we know it. They also look really cool on your desk.