Meet the Trilobites

Meet the Trilobites – Arizona’s First Inhabitants

Long before the dinosaurs ruled the earth, the trilobites ruled the seas. Ancient relatives of lobsters and horseshoe crabs, trilobites flourished in the warm seas that covered much of Arizona millions of years ago. “Meet the Trilobites – Arizona’s First Inhabitants,” the new exhibit at the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium, features world-class trilobite fossils from around the globe. Come travel back in time and discover the wondrous world of trilobites!

This new special exhibit, “Meet the Trilobites – Arizona’s First Inhabitants,” produced in collaboration with the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium, features an astonishing variety of trilobite specimens from world-class collectors. Alongside the exquisite fossils, you’ll learn about the wonders of trilobites, how they fit into the geologic time scale, and what these ancient creatures have taught us about the history of life on earth.

Trilobites populated the world’s oceans for 270 million years, surviving much longer than most forms of life, and they evolved into an amazing diversity of species. Paleontologists, the scientists who study ancient life, have identified over 20,000 different species of trilobites in the fossil record!

Found all over the world in layers of sedimentary rock, trilobite fossils have long been a source of fascination for scientists. Researchers have been able to map the changes and adaptations in trilobite populations across millions of years in the fossil record. In addition, trilobites have provided crucial evidence for the development of many fields of science – from basic geology to plate tectonics to evolutionary biology. Classified as arthropods with a hard exoskeleton and jointed limbs, trilobites ranged in size from less than an inch to nearly three feet in length.

Many of the specimens on display in the new exhibit were recently donated to the UA Mineral Museum by Robert and Margaret Hazen. Robert Hazen, a renowned trilobite collector, is a mineralogist and astrobiologist with the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC. Among his many books, Hazen has written most recently “The Story of the Earth,” a lively history of the planet that highlights the interplay between the evolution of life and minerals. Specimens from Jake Skabelund, one of the world’s top trilobite hunters, will also be on display and Skabelund provided his expertise to make this an outstanding exhibit.

Here in Arizona, specimens found near the bottom of the Grand Canyon represent some of the earliest trilobites in the fossil record, and specimens found near the top of the Grand Canyon are among the last species in the trilobite chronology. In fact, trilobites are found in layers of sedimentary rock all over Arizona because, around 400 million years ago, much of the state was covered by warm shallow seas, and those seas were home to an abundance of trilobites.