Tym the Trilobite: Aqualung required

Updated Thursday, 11th September 2008
Tym tells us about his life underwater.

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Trilobite detail

So, where did I live?

Well, I’m a marine creature – that is, I’m strictly a waterworld man; and from about 540 to 240 million years ago we ruled the waves.

Me and my kind could survive anywhere from shallow, tropical coral seas and reefs, to the iciest depths of polar seas, and there were bunches of us back then. Lots of different species of course, but with adaptations to allow us to live in a whole range of marine environments.

If you were a fisherman, way back in my time, and you went out and trawled the Cambrian and Ordovician seas – when you pulled in your nets they would be filled with masses of trilobites of every size, shape and species.

I don’t want to put you off, but it would have been like pulling in buckets and buckets of scrabbling beetles!

We all had our strong, protective, but sometimes inconvenient exoskeletons (have you ever tried getting romantic in a suit of armour?), but apart from our classic three lobe shape, we trilobite species were many and varied and adapted over time to fill almost ever type of habitat ‘known to man’ – sorry that should read ‘known to trilobites’… since you lot weren't even a glint in Mother Nature's eye back then.

Lots of us were crawlers or burrowers enjoying the floors of warm, shallow seas and reefs; but living right through to deep, cold ocean bottoms. That’s basically me, I’m a warm-water ‘crawler’, a benthic explorer; with good strong legs, compound eyes; and, I think, I’m one of the more attractive examples of our species!

Some of my trilobite relatives had eyes on stalks - so they could hide out in the mud or a burrow, with just their eyes sticking up like submarine periscopes: waiting for unsuspecting prey to drift past, then they’d grab it, and shred it!

We were the early masters of camouflage and concealment. Some of my cousins grew spines, or covered their bodies in bits of seaweed so as to blend into the background. Other trilobites went for an exceptionally thick shell and would scurry in and out of the sea, hunting along the tide line – using their sharp eyes and sensitive feelers to search out prey.

Some of my other trilobite brothers went down the ‘fast food’ route, and chose the ‘couch-potato, fat-slob’ option. They became filter feeders – with huge mouths and stomachs, lazy and unable to walk far. They had weak legs that they used for whipping up the mud and filtering out anything edible – think about that when you next order take-away pizza!

There were some wide ranging, free-swimming types that would occasionally drift in and upset the neighbourhood. They were the Olympic-athlete types – super fit, all eyes, not much leg and not much personality.

Looking back on what I’ve seen since I became a fossil, I think it was our ability to evolve and adapt to different habitats that made it possible for us to survive for so long and virtually take over the oceans of the world. Mostly, each individual species of us stuck pretty much to our own patch, for which we were specially adapted.

So why I hear you ask – are we not still around today? Well that’s a bit of a sorry story. I'll tell you more about that later…

Now getting back to when I said ‘we ruled the waves’. Well, that’s not entirely true – we did have our predators. There were quite a few ‘marine nasties’ around at the time, but I’ll come to them later, too, in my blog.

Oh, and there were quite a few major environmental blips too. In fact, it seemed like we never had a moment’s peace – what with plate tectonics on the go, continents colliding and volcanoes going off all the time, there was never a dull moment.

Frankly we were just happy that we were not ‘landlubbers’- because we’d have been either toasted, fried, crushed or just plain vaporised by a comet impact or some such event. At least being in the oceans we had some sort of protection, even the chance of being preserved as fossils, and surviving to tell you our tale.

Interview with the trilobite




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