Trilobite Top Tens

Top 10 Trilobite Museums
     The unfortunate fact is that even within the most prestigious natural history museums, trilobites rarely receive their proper degree of respect and recognition. Too often the fossilized remains of these amazing ancient creatures are relegated to small display cases in dark corners of back rooms while the oversized bones of dinosaurs and woolly mammoths vie for the saber-toothed tiger's share of public acclaim. But despite the less-than-stellar manner in which they are too often regarded, there are a number of institutions around the globe that have attempted to prioritize their presentation of trilobites. Here's a brief look at the Top 10 Trilobite Museums in the World:

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, NEW YORK: While this legendary Big Apple institution is certainly most renowned for its dinosaur halls, there is a small but comprehensive trilobite display located in the museum's 77th Street lobby. Among the featured specimens are a Spatahaclymene nastuta from Indiana and an Artcinurus boltoni from New York.

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, LONDON: What was once known as the British Museum features an impressive variety of indigenous trilobites, all of which adorn a number of well-located cases. There is a definite focus placed on the impressively preserved Silurian specimens from nearby Dudley, but among the other trilobites are an intriguing selection of Ogygiocarella specimens collected from throughout Great Britain.

ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM, TORONTO: Since the ROM happens to house the world's largest collection of Burgess Shale material, it should come as no great surprise that a healthy diversity of that locale's hallowed Middle Cambrian fauna is presented. This includes a number of trilobites, such as an Olenoides serratus with soft-part preservation. Of particular note is perhaps the only complete example of the famed “trilobite eater” Anomalocaris.

HOUSTON MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCE, TEXAS: This relatively new and expansive facility in the American southwest features one of the world's largest and most impressive trilobite displays, one that focuses mainly on the aesthetic presentation of exotic Moroccan and Russian species. A few choice North American trilo-types are also represented, including an Olenellus fremonti from California and Gabriceraurus dentatus from Ontario.

BACK TO THE PAST MUSEUM, CANCUN: Billed as “The World's First Trilobite Exclusive Museum”, this impressive display in Cancun, Mexico, is actually part of a trilobite-themed luxury resort. Hundreds of superlative specimens that cover all ages from Lower Cambrian to Permian are on exhibit, with highlights including a variety of rare Bristolia species from Utah.

FIELD MUSEUM, CHICAGO: A well-positioned case that looks something akin to a glass-encased spaceship presents the best trilobites held within this famed Midwestern museum. Among the featured specimens are a preponderance of relatively common Russian and Moroccan species, along with key North American examples including Olenoides nevadensis and Homotelus bromidensis. The Field also features a notable display of Paradoxides from Manuels River, Newfoundland.

SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTE, WASHINGTON, D.C.: Recently renovated, the Paleozoic Hall of the Smithsonian features some of the most impressive trilobite specimens to be found on display anywhere in the world. Among the key items are a rare Bathynotus from Vermont and an equally unusual Trimerus from Virginia. However, as nice as the new digs are, we still miss the old Paleozoic display which included a complete Dikelocephalus minnesotensis from Wisconsin.

CZECH NATIONAL MUSEUM, PRAGUE: Housing a preponderance of the legendary Czech trilobite collection gathered in the 19th Century by the famed Joachim Barrande, prior to its recent renovation this facility presented one of the most comprehensive displays to be found anywhere. Now, fewer specimens are seen, but under better lighting conditions… and with less apparent dust. Highlights include magnificent examples of Bumastus hornyi and Dalmanitina socialis.

MUSEUM OF COMPARATIVE ZOOLOGY, BOSTON: To be honest, the few trilobites on public display in this medium-sized facility located on the campus of Harvard University are nothing to write home about. But in its back rooms, the MCZ may boast of the single best museum trilobite collection in the world, one that features the most complete European collection in North America as well as a unique assortment of the locally-found Paradoxides harlani from Braintreee, MA.

HUNTERIAN MUSEUM & ART GALLERY, GLASGOW: The beautifully preserved Ordovician trilobites of Girvan, Scotland, are admired and studied everywhere from London to Los Angeles, and no museum presents a better collection of this unique material than this Glasgow landmark. Benefitted over the decades by the donations of a variety of local collectors, this institution proudly displays a rich variety of the area's outstanding fossilized fauna and flora.

A FEW MORE MUSEUMS OF NOTE: Natmuseum Schenkenberg, Germany; National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo; Peabody Museum, Connecticut; Estonian Museum of Natural History, Tallinn; Beijing Museum of Natural History, China; Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Colorado; Paleontological Museum Munich, Germany.


Top 10 Figures In Trilobite History
    Trilobites have been part of our world - either as living creatures or fossilized remnants -- for more than 520 million years. Yet the scientific study of these ancient arthropods has only been conducted in earnest over the last few centuries. During that time a select few adventurers, explorers and paleontologists have risen above all others in their quest to unearth not only actual examples of these Paleozoic creatures, but also uncover the role that trilobites have played in the history of our planet. Here is a quick look at the Top 10 Figures in Trilobite History.

CHARLES WALCOTT (1850-1927): From his initial exploration of upstate New York's Ordovician strata - in what would eventually become known as the Walcott-Rust quarry - to his legendary work in British Columbia's Burgess Shale, few figures in the history of paleontology can come close to matching the lifetime achievements of Charles Walcott. The renowned expert of all-things Middle Cambrian during his lifetime, his accomplishments remain unrivalled among those who have sought knowledge of the primeval past.

JOACHIM BARRANDE (1799-1883): This French naturalist spent decades during the mid-19th Century studying and collecting trilobites within the borders of what was then known as Bohemia, and is now the Czech Republic. His groundbreaking book, Systeme Silurien du Centre de la Boheme, helped to not only unveil previously unimagined information about trilobites, but also to present wonderfully detailed, hand-drawn images of the specimens he discovered. Barrande's work supposedly even influenced the thinking of Charles Darwin.

NILES ELDREDGE (1943- ): The Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at New York's famed American Museum of Natural History from 1969 until his retirement in 2010, it was in 1972 that Eldredge proposed (along with Stephen Jay Gould) one of the most important scientific theories of the late 20th Century… Punctuated Equilibria. Much of Eldredge's work in that regard was based on his studies of the compound eye patterns of North American phacopid trilobites.  

SIR RODERICK MURCHISON (1792- 1871): Back in the 19th Century, Murchison was a true “rock star” geologist throughout the British Isles. He helped pioneer the study of trilobites in the groundbreaking book The Silurian System, the success of which turned him into a national icon, and allowed him to lecture in front of thousands of rapt followers at a time.  In 1863 he was knighted for his various geological achievements.

JAMES HALL (1811-1898): Perhaps no one played a more vital role than James Hall in establishing the science of paleontology in the United States. In the mid-years of the 19th Century, during his time as the state paleontologist of New York, his work allowed him to explore, as well as collect in, a number of key trilobite locales, including the Rochester Shale. His influence on other scientists (both Charles Walcott and Charles Beecher served as his apprentice) helped shape the style and substance of the paleontological science.

LOUIS AGASSIZ (1807-1873): This Swiss-born geologist and biologist is perhaps best known for founding Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and subsequently filling that institution with one of the major trilobite collections in the world - including the best Barrande-collected material outside of the Czech Republic. Though in later life he presented some controversial (and blatantly incorrect) thoughts on evolution, he remains one of natural history's keystone figures. 

CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882): While Darwin may never have directly studied, or for all we know, even held a trilobite, his renown as the father of contemporary evolutionary thought still instantly qualifies him an essential member of our Top 10 list. Indeed, the earlier writings of various scientists whose primary focus was trilobites (including Murchison and Barrande), directly impacted Darwin's subsequent thoughts and philosophies.

HARRY WHITTINGTON (1916-2010): Thanks to his mid-20th Century efforts at the Burgess Shale in British Columbia, many within the science world consider Whittington to be one of the most important forces behind the recognition of the Cambrian Explosion. Working first in his native Britain, and later in the US as the Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at Harvard's famed Museum of Comparative Zoology, his actions helped identify the incredible faunal diversity that existed in the Cambrian.

RICHARD FORTEY (1946- ): This British scientist stands as perhaps the “modern face” of trilobite research. Fortey's various books on the subject (including Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution) have served to introduce an ever-wider audience to the myriad wonders of these amazing arthropods, while his research at the Natural History Museum in London has expanded our knowledge of how these ancient creatures lived and interacted within the undersea world that surrounded them.

STEPHEN JAY GOULD (1941-2002): Prior to his tragic passing in 2002, Gould was the renowned professor of zoology at Harvard who helped revolutionize scientific thought through his pioneering work (with Niles Eldredge) on the theory of Punctuated Equilibria, which describes how evolutionary change, rather than being a slow, steady process, often occurs in sudden bursts. A prodigious writer with over 300 magazine features to his credit, his book on the Burgess Shale, Wonderful Life, is a must-read for anyone interested in trilobites. 


10 Most Common Trilobites In The World
    Contrary to popular belief, not every trilobite is a rare, scientifically significant treasure. Some are actually little more than relatively common remnants of the long-distant Paleozoic Era. And with even a minimum of effort, you should be able to find inexpensive examples of these abundant trilo-types lurking at any local rock show… in certain museum gift shops… or making their presence known all over the internet. Here is a quick salute to the 10 Most Common Trilobites in the World.

Elrathia kingii

Elrathia kingii: This ubiquitous Middle Cambrian species dominates the fauna within the 510 million year old Wheeler Shale of Utah. It has been estimated that over 50,000 complete Elrathia specimens have so-far been found, making this attractive, black-shelled species the world's most common trilobite.

trilobite Ellipsocephalus hoffi

Ellipsocephalus hoffi: Often found in mass mortality layers featuring dozens of examples overlapping one another, this Middle Cambrian species is the most prolific trilobite emerging from the famous Barrandian formations of the Czech Republic. Indeed, this is the most common trilobite species in the entirety of Europe.

Flexicalymene ouzregui

Diacalymene ouzregui: These large (up to 10 cm) Ordovician “mud bugs” come in concretions featuring both the positive and negative halves. In the commercial market, such trilobites are often found composited from disjointed, unassociated pieces, making them a popular “pariah” on the commercial marketplace.

Asaphiscus wheeleriB

Asaphiscus wheeleri: Another of the “classic” and omnipresent Cambrian species from Utah. While not as common as Elrathia (indeed, nothing in the trilobite world is), Asaphiscus is still the second most abundant non-agnostid species found within the Wheeler Shale. Complete examples are much harder to obtain than specimens lacking their free cheeks.

Changaspis elongata: This diminutive but elegant Cambrian species from China started popping up on the world market in significant numbers during the early days of the 21st Century. In more recent years, good examples of these 1-2 cm trilobites have become more and more difficult to find.

Flexicalymene meeki: To state something somewhat oxymoronic, this is the “rarest” member of our “most common” trilobites list.  But this Ordovician species from Ohio -- which is often discovered in an enrolled state of preservation -- is found in sufficient numbers to make it an essential part of every private or museum trilobite collection. 

Phacops rana: This inch-long species from the Devonian rocks of upstate New York can often appear in mass mortality plates featuring up to one hundred tightly packed complete examples. With their coal-black shells and highly detailed compound eyes, this classic species ranks highly among collectors' favorites.

Asaphus expansus: With their beautiful caramel-colored shell, these medium-sized (5-8 cm) Asaphids may be the most readily attainable examples of the often-lavish line of trilobites drawn from Russia's bulging Ordovician fossil beds. Be aware, however, that extensive restoration may earmark even the most common species emerging from the quarries that ring St. Petersburg.

trilobite Acadoparadoxides noblis

Acadoparadoxides levi-setti: This is unquestionably the largest member of our “most common” club, frequently reaching lengths of a foot… or more. Found in prodigious numbers within the Middle Cambrian sediments of Morocco, you must be careful that the specimen you're examining has not been composited, or heavily restored. In fact, specimens found on-line are frequently complete fabrications.

Proetus granulosus: These small, oval, Devonian trilobites can usually be seen being sold by the flat-load at virtually any major fossil show. One must assume that the cost of Moroccan prep is significantly lower than it's Euro-American equivalent, otherwise these “cute” specimens would never be available for such a miniscule amount.


10 Rarest Trilobites In The World
    Some trilobite species are pervasive, having been discovered in the multitudes within the various sedimentary layers of Planet Earth. Others are as rare as Archaeopteryx teeth. In many cases, certain examples of these ancient arthropods represent the ONLY complete specimen ever found of that particular species. Here is a quick look at the 10 Rarest Trilobites in the World.

Terataspis grandis: This is the legendary Devonian “monster” of eastern North America. Originally described from disarticulated parts, this lichid could have grown to a size of 18 inches… or more. One complete example is currently housed in the Royal Ontario Museum, while another “rumored” complete specimen was found in New York State early in the 21st Century.

Laethoprusia n.sp.: Oklahoma's Haragan Formation has produced some of the best known - and best preserved - trilobites ever found. But even after decades of extensive digging, surprises can still occur, as was the case when a previously unknown species of Laethoprusia was discovered there in 2007.  This inch-long odontopleurid is noted for its sweeping spines which encircle the trilobite's entire carapace.

Apianurus sp.

Apianurus sp.: Legend has it that after using a large piece of matrix as a convenient seat during a week's worth of digging in New York's Walcott/Rust quarry, it was decided to break down that particular Ordovician rock to see if it contained anything of interest. Indeed it did… the only known complete example of the spiny odontopleurid, Apianurus sp. This specimen currently resides in the Smithsonian.

Neodrepanura premsnili: For centuries “swallow stones” have been embraced in Chinese culture as mysterious good luck omens. These fossils - actually the disarticulated pygidia of the Cambrian trilobite Neodrepanura premesnili, which do somewhat resemble the shape of a flying swallow - have been unearthed by the thousands, yet until 2005 no complete example of the species had been found. Since then, two specimens have been uncovered.

trilobite Metopolichas briviceps

Metopolichas breviceps: Found in the famed Silurian-age Waldron Shale quarries that dot the Indiana landscape, only one complete example of the elegant lichid Metopolichas breviceps has so-far been reported. Apparently, strong oceanic currents prevailed in this locale some 425 million years ago, serving to tear apart many of the area's trilobites soon after their demise.

Bathynotellus sp.: The story goes that this unique specimen of Bathynotellus sp. was acquired from a European vendor who was roaming through the Tucson Fossil Show back in the early '90s. It represents a particularly aesthetic, as well as particularly rare, example of this highly unusual species from the Lower Cambrian of Siberia.

Dikelocephalus minnesotensis S

Dikelocephalus minnesotensis: For more than two decades -- up until the 2015 revamping of their fossil halls -- this specimen served as the centerpiece of the Smithsonian's renowned trilobite display. Supposedly “discovered” back in the 1960s serving as a doorstop in a Midwestern home, this 10 cm Dikelocephalus from the Upper Cambrian of Wisconsin represents the only known complete example of this exceptional species.

Olenoides skabelundi: For many decades it was assumed within paleontological circles that the distinctive fauna of the Weeks Formation of central Utah was of Upper Cambrian age. Then in the early years of this century, two complete Olenoides specimens (one over 17 cm in length) were uncovered, providing ample evidence that these layers were, in fact, Middle Cambrian.

Slab with imprint of fossilized Uralichas aff. guitierrezi trilobite.

Uralichas aff. guitierrezi: In recent years, the Valongo Formation of Portugal has become renowned for the impressive size of the trilobite material contained within its smooth, black shale layers. The rarest example emanating from this Middle Ordovician locale is a unique species of Uralichas, which, judging by a few partial pieces as well as three complete specimens, could apparently grow to over a foot in length.

A fossilized Celmus barrandei [H.o.F] trilobite in a stone slab.

Celmus barrandei: Up until the relatively recent explosion of Russian trilobite material on the world market, examples of trilobites such as this diminutive (2 cm) Celmus were virtually unknown. Over the last two decades a few complete examples have emerged, but perhaps none as striking as this “gem” specimen from the Ordovician quarries located along the Wolchow River. 


10 Most Beautiful Trilobites In The World
   The old cliche states that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In few places is the truth behind that statement more apparent than in the domain of trilobites. Let's face it, either you see the inherent majesty of these ancient butterflies of the sea, or you regard them as little more than primal sea slugs. To reinforce the notion that trilobites are creatures of unmatched natural elegance, here is a highly subjective look at the 10 Most Beautiful Trilobites in the World.

trilobite Phillonyx

Quadrops flexuosa: Resembling a creature from the latest Alien movie, or at least a visitor from another world, this Devonian trilobite from Morocco is an amazing example of the strange and unpredictable tricks that evolution can play. The latest scientific thought is that the multitude of spines adorning this 6 cm beast served as sensory organs alerting the trilobite to possible enemies… or prey. 

trilobite Dicranurus hamatus elegantus

Dicranurus hamatus: This species is officially known as Dicranurus hamatus elegantus, and for good reason. With its long flowing cephalic “horns” and streamlined body design, this Devonian species from the fossil-rich rocks of Oklahoma is clearly one of the most elegant members of the trilobite fraternity. A remarkably similar genus is found some 5,000 miles away in similarly-aged Moroccan strata.

trilobite Dicranopeltis scabra propinqua

Dicranopeltis scabra: With its distinctive limonite covering contrasting dramatically against the chocolate-brown matrix, the rare Czech species Dicranopeltis scabra certainly ranks among the paleontological world's most eye-catching trilobites. Though this example has some damage on the glabella, its morphological complexity and aesthetic splendor clearly outshine such superficial problems.

trilobite Hoplolichas tricuspidatus

Hoplolichas plautini: The first of the “exotic” Ordovician trilobites to emerge on the international market from the fossil-rich strata of Western Russia, these pin-cushion nosed lichids amazed both collectors and museum officials upon arrival in the late '90s. Unfortunately, subsequent information revealed that many of these had been conveniently “doctored” to make their spines even more prominent and dramatic. 

Olenoides superbus Best

Olenoides superbus: These majestic “monsters” were apparently the scourge of the Middle Cambrian seas. Frequently reaching sizessizes of 12 cm, or more, these beautifully preserved specimens from Utah apparently were predatory, feasting on smaller, less intimidating members of their trilobite brotherhood. The row of long spines running down their axial lobe may have been used for defensive purposes or as an aid in navigating through the early Paleozoic seas.

Ceratonurus sp.: This amazing 15 cm specimen was found at an elevation of 12,000 feet in the rugged Cortez Mountains of Nevada. While so-far undescribed by science, this Lower Devonian trilobite's morphological makeup marks it as an odontopleurid closely aligned with Ceratonurus.  By almost any measure, it is one of the most impressive trilobites ever found. It easily qualifies in both our “Rarest Trilobite” and  “Most Beautiful” categories.

trilobite Boedaspis ensifer 1

Boedaspis ensifer: When these magnificent spiny trilobites from Russia first started to appear at fossil shows in the early years of the 21st Century, few within the scientific and collecting communities could believe their eyes. Initially it was thought that they must be the figment of some overzealous artist's creative imagination. Thankfully, as more specimens emerged, their status as true Ordovician relics was confirmed.

Koneprusia x: It wasn't until the fossil preparator's skill reached a certain level of proficiency late in the 20th Century that the true magnificence of certain Devonian trilobites from Morocco became evident. Certainly at the top of such a list would be this bizarre species of Koneprusia which seems to have a body designed expressly for gently floating amid powerful oceanic currents.

trilobite Gabriceraurus dentatus 2

Gabriceraurus dentatus: Not every beautiful trilobite requires a row of free-standing spines or an overly complex morphological design in order to justify its inclusion on our list. Some may simply represent the quintessence of elegance within the trilobite kingdom. Perhaps no species better exemplifies that notion than the appealing Gabriceraurus dentatus, the largest cheirurid trilobite found within the fossil-rich Ordovician layers of Ontario, Canada. 

trilobite Gabriellus kierorum

Gabriellus kierorum : It's readily apparent that Mother Nature wasted little time when it came to stamping her artistic hand upon the trilobite world. Even in the early stages of the Lower Cambrian, soon after the first trilobites emerged some 521 million years ago, magnificently detailed species such as Gabriellus kierorum were already filling the seas.