Despite their obscurity, trilobites are among the hardiest, most successful and fascinating animals in history, surviving for over 300 million years and diversifying into some 20,000 distinct species. Filling every aquatic niche and spreading all over the world, they are often used by geologists to date rock formations, not to mention prized by collectors and museums for their allure. The immense diversity and beauty of the many distinct forms they evolved into is brilliantly captured here by Haeckel (as always).
Seemingly paradoxically, the piece was not titled trilobites, but Aspidonia, a reference to the very much not extinct horseshoe crab (which is also featured quite prominently). This was a very deliberate choice by Haeckel, who chose to display both in order to allow the viewer to see their similarities, and get a clear view of their evolutionary process.
The inclusion of a third ancient arthropod, the eurypterids (or sea scorpions), another specialized relative of the horseshoe crab, is a further testament to the diversity and beauty of this ancient order of arthropods, and the biological power of evolution.
Iain Donnelly is a student with a keen interest in both arts and sciences (especially palaeontology and evolutionary biology). He has long been an ardent admirer of trilobites.
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