ESTABLISHED 570,000,000 B.C.
UPDATED FEBRUARY 2010*
DETAIL FROM A STAINED GLASS WINDOW
Why trilobites? They are a tangible link to a past so distant that they make us look almost contemporary with dinosaurs. We think of dinosaurs as having lived a long time ago but consider this: the height of the Cretaceous was seventy million years ago. Had the Tyrannosaurs and Triceratops looked down, they would have found trilobite fossils beneath their feet that were already five hundred million years old! Trilobites were tremendously diverse with a fantastic variety of forms comprising over twenty thousand species. To learn about trilobites is to learn about the ever-changing face of our planet. Besides, you can afford a whole trilobite and hold it in your hand. Try that with a dinosaur!
Hi, my name is Frank Galef. I live in the northern part of San Diego County in California. I have been interested in Paleontology as long as I can remember. For many years I mostly thought of trilobites as a life form that came before dinosaurs, usually depicted crawling in the mud at the bottom of an ocean otherwise inhabited by uncomfortably unfamiliar creatures. I had a few specimens of Elrathia sitting on bookshelf and assumed that was about it for trilobites. In the early 1990's I was at a point in my professional and personal life that I was finally able to invest both some time and money in my long-neglected interest in the past and began collecting some minerals and fossils. Having viewed some of my nascent collection, an acquaintance gave me a Phacops the size of a potato. Its eyes were as nicely faceted as a gem and I was hooked. I began haunting local rock shops and gem and mineral shows as well as buying any books I could find that featured at least a few good pictures of these fascinating animals. When I expressed frustration to some of the dealers I met about the limited range of specimens available, they began telling me about the annual Arizona Fossil and Mineral Show in Tucson. Several trips there have added greatly to my collection and my knowledge of the subject. Around the same time I discovered the incredible resources available on the Internet. It can be a bit lonely to be a trilobite collector. Friends and acquaintances often enjoy looking at my display cases, but that's about the extent of their interest. On the other hand, the Internet makes it possible to communicate with collectors and enthusiasts all over the world, so I decided to try and do my part!
On this website I want to try to tell a little bit about the world of the trilobites and how it relates to what we find today. There are some other very good websites and I will tell you about them. I don't want to duplicate what someone else has already done; I don't have the space for it. There are too many trilobites for anyone to hope to collect them all. Different collectors have different reasons for what they put into their collections. Some try to obtain representative examples of all of the major orders, superfamilies and families. Others concentrate on the species from a certain order, area or era. It is also possible to try to get a trilobite from every country or a set whose names begin with each letter of the alphabet. It seems that most collectors just get what appeals to them, and there is certainly enough variety to satisfy any taste or budget. The trilobites shown here are from my collection, and I hope that it continues to improve. A bit further down this page are some of my thoughts about what I have discovered about the joys and risks of building a collection and perhaps a bit of why I have the specimens that occupy my shelves and cabinets.
Modern multicellular life appeared in the fossil record during the Paleozoic era. Trilobites were a dominant life form during much of the 325 million years of the Paleozoic. The Earth was very different with continents colliding, forming and breaking apart. Nothing resembled modern landforms. Trilobites, of course, lived in the oceans, and in trying to understand their range and distribution it is necessary to recognize the reorganization of the Earth's crust that turned their watery world into today's mountains. Many of their final resting places are still under the seabed, and countless others have been subducted, melted and ground to bits by tectonic actions. I will show some basic maps of the periods of the Paleozoic and try to connect them with their modern counterparts, as well as show some representative trilobites. Major, well-known landmasses are labeled in green. The red names show the areas in the oceans that will eventually be pushed up to form the land where trilobites are found. To see the geological periods and their representative specimens, click on the link to that period. The specimen labels show the name and state or country of origin. Beneath each specimen is additional data including the size of the specimen and information about the location where it was found. This is based on the information supplied by the dealer, when available.
Trilobite classification is still very much a work in progress. I am attempting to display my collection by geologic period. In each period the specimens will be organized according to their Order and Suborder or Superfamily, then species. Yahoo Trilobite Club member Sam Gon III has done a great job of presenting the salient points of current trilobite classification according to his synthesis of the current, but incomplete Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology,Part O with its 1959 predecessor, the original Treatise. The list of orders includes: Agnostida, Redlichida, Corynexochida, Lichida, Phacopida, Proetida, Asaphida, Ptychoparida and now Harpetida has been added. Most orders did not exist throughout the entire Paleozoic, but several did have members extending through several periods. The basis for this classification is not always clear. If you want further details, please check out Sam's A Guide to the Orders of Trilobites . His website also has a great guide to Trilobite Anatomy and a Glossary of Trilobite terms. Sam continues to add to his website and it now has animations of a walking trilobite, a molting trilobite and I'm waiting for Sam to demonstrate how they reproduced with all those spines. I also want to thank fellow collector Jim Cook for his assistance in providing a great deal of information to make my identifications as accurate as possible.
If you want to know more about the changing nature of the face of the Earth, check out some of the links at the end of this page.
To see the Cambrian Period Part 1: Agnostida and Redlichiida
To see the Cambrian Period Part 2: Ptychopariida
To see the Cambrian Period Part 3: Asaphida, Corynexochida and Friends
To see the Ordovician Period Part 1 Asaphida
To see the Ordovician Period Part 2 Lichida, Phacopida, Corynexochida, Ptychoparidia and Proetida
To see the Silurian Period
To see the Devonian Period Part 1 : Lichida, Corynexochida, Proetida and Harpetida
To see the Devonian Period Part 2: Phacopida.
To see the Carboniferous Period, the Permian Period, some Trilo-trivia and Links
It has been a while, but I am finally getting around to
making some updates. I didn't get to the Tucson Show again this
year, haven't seen much on Ebay that I wanted to fight over and have
been busy with a lot of other things. That's life, but back to
dead things... I realized that a lot of my links were outdated,
so I cleaned them up and added some new ones.
I am also planning to continue upgrading many of my photos and will make some changes in the way I present them. Information about the specimen will be displayed with the image rather than at the bottom of the page and I plan to include some discussion about many of them. When possible I will try to highlight some of the special features that help to identify a species and for many of them I will include some additional personal thoughts and trilobite gossip reflecting my personal perspective as a collector of these fascinating fossils.
I recently bought a new Dremel and while that is not a very good tool for working on the surface of a fossil, it does wonderful things for matrix. I have had some fun with some of my older Moroccan-prepped specimens by cleaning up the surfaces around the fossils and in some cases exposing parts of the fossil that wasn't even originally visible. It's somewhat of a matter of personal preference, but I find the "standard" preparation technique that surrounds the trilobite with radiating grooves cut into dark grey limestone to be somewhat distracting. I have been grinding a lot of those grooves off and cleaning up the edges of the fossils themselves, which makes them look a lot better. At least I think so. I will try to start adding new, higher resolution images of many of them as time permits!
I am still going to try to update some of my labels. Many Moroccan trilobites were named according to their resemblance to trilobites found elsewhere, such as in Europe. They are now being renamed as they are formally described or as it is realized that a specimen with an informal name has already been given a name somewhere in formal literature. I'll try to deal with these matters as time permits and I certainly won't guarantee that I'll get them right the first few times I try.
The picture at the top of this page is a detail from the stained glass window sidelight in my home's entry. My wife commissioned it for our 28th wedding anniversary. It also features crinoids, ammonites, baculites and a nautiloid. Speaking of this, I am still thinking about working on a page for Ammonites. I have collected a lot of these beautiful fossils over the years, and it seems that they deserve some attention.
REAL ADVENTURES IN COLLECTING
Most of the fossils displayed in these pages were purchased at rockshops, shows and on Ebay, but it is fun and exciting to find your own. Many collectors have ONLY what they have found. Obviously, I am very interested in finding connections to the past and my wife simply likes "finding stuff". We have taken a few trips to see what we can dig up and I'm trying to create some pages to show where we've been and what we've found. I hope they look like fun and encourage others to get out, get some fresh air and find some good stuff.
Some pictures from our most recent trip can be seen here: Arizona 2005.
Here is a recap of our trip to the U-Dig Quarry in Utah from June of 2002.
In 2002 we also stopped at Oak Spring Summit in Nevada.
This is an account of a try at digging up trilobites in Southern California's San Bernardino County's Marble Mountains.
REAL ADVENTURES IN BUYING BUGS
Many fossil collectors want only what they personally find in the field. Some may trade with friends who are fossil-finders but are not inclined to allow anything on their shelves if the provenance is not personally known. That attitude is great, but if you don't happen to live close to a locale where your favorite fossils are underfoot, a lot of time and travel can be involved. Many collectors don't have the time and resources to visit Morocco or Russia, so it makes sense to them to pay for a nice specimen. Then the question is "what to buy?" While different people have different interests and vastly different budgets, I can make some remarks about what motivates me to acquire the specimens that are in my collection.
When I began my collection, I would buy almost anything that I could find that was a trilobite as long as it was something I hadn't seen before. That resulted in my acquiring a number of "partials", specimens missing a cheek or cheeks or even the entire pygidium. They may have been incomplete but they sure looked exotic to me at the time. I did shy away from the incredibly expensive spiny bugs on display in some fancier rock shops as I couldn't believe that anybody would actually pay hundreds of dollars for a fossil. That was definitely a good thing as I now know the stratospheric mark-up on those pieces as well as realizing the likelihood that they if not heavily restored, they were not really the best possible examples of their species that could be found. In my first trip to the Tucson Show in 1997, I arrived late and mostly picked over what hadn't already been snapped up by seasoned buyers. I had no ambition to buy anything with free-standing spines and didn't even know the names of the vast majority of the species available. It was exciting to come home with a few small pieces from Oklahoma and a batch of inexpensive Moroccan specimens, the names of which I had to write down to be sure that I could remember them. Later that year I bought a computer and discovered the wide range of information available about trilobites on the Internet. Subsequent trips to the Tucson Show were even more exciting and at the same time I was delighted to find that Ebay could be a great source of trilobites. I have certainly become more comfortable in buying spines, although given the nature of the marketplace I often feel that almost any purchase can be an adventure. As I look back at what I have brought home, I have tried to decide what appeals to me and what factors go into my decision to bring home a given bug. Other collectors may have very different perspectives, but here is what I look for and how I try to be reasonably certain that I will be happy with what I decide to buy.
SHOULD I SHOP FOR A SPECIFIC SPECIES?
This is often a tough question. I have gone to shows with the intention to shop for a nice specimen of a particular species that interests me. Usually it turns out that none are available, or if there are any, they are either far too expensive or not something that I want to display. On the other hand, I have also found exactly what I wanted at the first dealer I visited and I still had a lot of time left. I do know that other collectors are doggedly looking for one special species to complete a specific grouping in their cabinet. They will visit a long list of dealers as well as perusing fossil-selling websites and carefully monitoring Ebay. Anyhow, I am rarely so focused and usually end up going for what happens to appeal to me when I see it.
SHOULD I BUY ONLY A COMPLETE FOSSIL?
First of all, there is probably no such thing as a complete fossil. Soft parts are almost always gone and depending on closely one looks, something is almost invariably broken or missing. Many fossils with substantial scientific value are only partial cephalons, pleurae or pygidiums. In fact, some pygidiums are the most interesting and appealing part of the entire animal and may be a lot more affordable than a complete specimen, if one can be found at any price. One example might be the broad and spiny tail end of an Acanthopyge, a species that was almost never found intact until a few pockets of complete bugs were discovered and marketed around the turn of this century. On the other hand, I do like to have something that looks nice when displayed. While my sense of aesthetics is certainly a big factor here, it is also partly due to my sense that other people looking at a display are more likely to be interested in something that is recognizable as an entire organism. One of the joys for me in having a collection is seeing how it appeals to and educates people who would otherwise have had no idea at all that trilobites ever existed. In most museums, displays are far more likely to attract attention when they feature a complete dinosaur rather than a drawer with a few fragments of bone, a coprolite and an odd tooth or two. I do have self-collected examples of stomatolites, partial Olenellus head shields, crinoid stems and horn corals on my shelves, but I have to admit that they don't provoke anything near the reaction that I see when someone first comes nose to nose with a complete Koneprussia.
While "completeness" may be an ideal, I rarely achieve it. I am often seduced by a nice pair of eyes and later realize that a bunch of pleural tips are missing. I have paid for fossils to obtain a shining crenellated pygidium, only to realize later that the eyes are crushed or one of the genal spines is missing. This is a particular risk when dealing with spiny trilobites and "flying" preparations as those special features may be the only appealing attribute of an otherwise mediocre and damaged fossil. In many cases, later inspection at home reveals bumps, scrapes and dings that I managed to miss when I was writing the check. This is not to say that I necessarily wouldn't have bought the specimen anyhow; it just surprises me to see how easy it is to be succumb to the allure of one particularly nice feature. I do carry a pair of reading glasses and often a ten power head magnifier when shopping, but I still manage to surprise myself at what I missed. I mention this as a cautionary point of advice as it can be tough to look this carefully when buying from a website or on Ebay. It can be tough to do "due diligence" if you can't get up close and personal with the fossil. Many sellers will provide additional images, but you have to think to ask. In some cases, flaws can be used as bargaining points to move a price in your favor. Of course, in other cases, you may be told you are lucky to get such a piece at any price, but it usually doesn't hurt to ask.
IS IT A REAL FOSSIL?
This may seem like a weird question when the whole subject is fossils, but it is one of the most contentious subjects among trilobite collectors. There are some nice replicas of trilobites available and they provide a quick and inexpensive way to have a nice display. These would be great for hanging on a wall in a school or office. While not as pricey as genuine, exotic specimens, some replicas can be very expensive. In any case, it is fine to buy a cast or sculpture as long as it is clearly labeled as such and you know what you are buying. Some real trilobites have restoration to parts that were lost while the animal was alive, damaged during the fossilization process or dinged while being discovered and prepared. On the other hand, there are a lot of specimens for sale as genuine that are composites made from pieces of several fossils, covered with fake spines or are completely plastic bugs. If you thought you got a good example of an unusual fossil, it would be pretty awful to discover you had paid for something other than what you thought you were buying. Some dealers are very quick to identify and explain exactly what you are buying; others are less forthcoming. Part of the problem is that the entire process of getting a trilobite from mountain to market may involve a lengthy chain of interrupted possession. There are some dealers who find, prepare and sell their own material, but that most people who are this business need to move more product than that style allows if they want their business to remain viable. Thus the dealer may not have been in control of the entire process of discovery and preparation and ends up relying on the word of others who may not be honest about what has been done to the piece. Of course, the dealer may well be, shall we say, "ethically challenged" regarding the condition of their merchandise. I suspect that some of the problem may be cultural. The trilobite trade is international in scope and I can see how some things may get altered in translation. Sometimes when you ask, "Is it real?", they may reply, "Yes", meaning it is real in the sense that it is what it is and it actually exists. OK, that isn't very satisfying, but in many parts of the world it seems that all is fair in business and you can take that to the bank. Getting accused of fraud may be unpleasant but can also be considered a risk of doing business and there are always plenty of other customers to replace a few that are dissatisfied. Some dealers only admit to reconstruction when specifically asked and after admitting to reconstructing one spine can allow you to think that all the rest are real. Here are a couple of essays on the subject of fake trilobites, written by experts in the fossil preparation trade:
It is easy to see how someone could become totally paranoid after reading these articles. Some people say that "all Moroccan and Russian fossils are bondo" or that any spine you see must be fake. Many dealers and preparators make veiled allusions to perfidy on the part of other purveyors, but it is tough to get anyone to go on the record regarding who is selling stuff that is more resin than real. Some of this reticence is almost certainly due to fears of getting sued for slander or having other dealers retaliate by sullying their reputation, but a lot of it relates to recognizing the uncertainties of the fossil business and recognition of the fact that it is really tough to be in complete control of the process from the quarry to the retail display. 99% of what a dealer sells may be above reproach, but what should a customer think if they end up with a questionable specimen? I do think that it is possible to get real and beautiful specimens from these areas. It pays to be diligent and work with dealers to develop a level of trust over time. I would certainly caution anyone against buying high end fancy specimens on their first foray into the marketplace.
SHOULD I BUY SOME REAL EYE CANDY?
How much do aesthetics count? In looking at a fossil I often wonder how well it will display. How much more is it worth if it is completely laid out on its matrix instead of curled up, twisted or partially squashed on one side? Some species are tough to find except as balled-up "rollers". Many appear to be doing a dive in the pike position while others are often sharply arched into a pose that would give a circus contortionist a backache. There is definitely some charm to each of these poses, but it makes them tough to photograph and unless I want to place them on a rotating platform, their best side must be picked before they go into the case.
A really well prepared trilobite is a stunning piece of art as well as a natural object. The work being done by the best preppers on many Russian and Moroccan fossils is amazing, and the same is true of some of the material from Canada, Ohio, Utah and Oklahoma. The shell material on the top trilobites is translucent and the surface detail can be captivating, not to mention the beauty of the lenses in the eyes and, of course, the attention-grabbing free-standing spines. There is an arms race of sorts going on these days among prep-artists to see what is possible and every year they seem to be doing what used to seem impossible. Spines that used to be considered best left in matrix are now extracted and the entire specimen is left on a fragile pedestal. Of course this does cost money and a budget is an important thing to bring along on any shopping expedition. How much is such artistry worth? I recently saw two spectacular examples of the same spiny species sitting side by side. One was almost twice as expensive as the other and after several minutes of careful comparison, I could not tell the difference. I asked the preparator and he told me that the disparity was evident if observed at 30X magnification and that for some collectors it was worth the extra cost.
The Tucson Show is a great source for high-end material and there are also a lot of wonderful specimens available through Internet websites. When visiting the Show, I may make one or two major purchases but rarely more than that. Expense aside, shopping for a fancy fossil can be quite an adrenaline-provoking experience and having gone through it, I kind of like to go home and "bond" with my acquisition. I may be enchanted with a new trilobite but the personal impact is lost if there are too many new bugs all at once.
This brings me to one final thought about the fossil-buying experience and that is
THE TUPPERWARE FACTOR
Once a fancy trilobite has been purchased, an important question arises: how do you safely get it home? These things are extremely fragile and once something breaks off, it can really tough to repair if you can even find the pieces. It is tough to hand carry such merchandise for more than a few feet before something goes wrong. Carefully setting it in a box filled with packing peanuts just won't work and you simply cannot wrap free-standing spines with bubblewrap. Traditionally I have seen dealers use large amounts of museum wax to attach the matrix to a base and then cunningly construct arches and cylinders of cardboard to provide protection before sealing the entire opus with yards of postal tape. Many Russian fossils come in their own custom-made wooden boxes, held in place with wires strung through pre-cut holes and carefully tied in the back. I have also seen a few fossils glued into plastic boxes. All of these methods may protect the merchandise until it gets home, but then extricating it can be an adventure and such systems are practically impossible to use again if you ever have to move. The latest response to this problem is Tupperware. The fossil is attached to the inside of the lid with a screw into a hole drilled into the underside of the matrix and this becomes the bottom of the fossil-restraint and shipping system. The clear bowl of the Tupperware, which is now the top, is then attached and the fossil is good to go. This works beautifully to protect the specimen, and it is easy to remove as long as it is a screw together system. True "burping" Tupperware with a really strong snapping cap can be scary to open, but then real Tupperware is too expensive and for the most part everyone seems to use the cheaper knock-offs with screw-on lids. Over the last couple of years I have seen Tupperware packing become very common at the Tucson Show, particularly among the Moroccan dealers. This has led to an interesting business practice. If good stuff is packed in Tupperware, anything packed in the stuff must therefore be good, and if it were junk, it wouldn't be in Tupperware, right?! There is now a lot of very marginal stuff displayed on Tupperware lids, apparently in the hope that the plastic shipping container will provide some aura of verisimilitude to the fossil. I recently saw one remarkably huge would-be Dicranarus that appeared to be made mostly of hand-rolled PlayDoh resting uncomfortably on a slab of limestone screwed to the top of a Tupperware salad bowl large enough to be used for bathing a medium sized child. Hey, it was valuable to be in Tupperware, so it must have been real. Right? You still have to be careful with packing your fossils and the buyer must still still beware.
For more details on some of my "adventures" in buying trilobites, please check out the descriptions on my specimen pages. As time permits, I will add some comments.
TRILOBITE CLUB: I am a member of the YAHOO TRILOBITES2 CLUB . For several years, the Yahoo Trilobites Club was a fantastic gathering point for trilobitophiles from around the world. For some reason, it vanished last year as if a major asteroid had crashed into the WorldWide Web, but thanks to Dr. Sam Gon III, a new Club arose to take its place. Say what you want about any club that will have me as a member, but Trilobites2 is a wonderful resource on the Internet for anyone with an Interest in Bugs! Check it out; you don't have to be a member to look.
I NOW HAVE A GUESTBOOK ON THE LAST PAGE, SO SIGN AND LEAVE YOUR TRACKWAY TRACE!