Author Archives: Jason Lowder

Is There a Living Trilobite? A Look at Some Modern Imposters

moroccan trilobites

First appearing in the early Cambrian Period (some 542 million years ago), the now-extinct Trilobite is one of the earliest-known arthropods. The name, meaning ‘three lobes’, is aptly descriptive of the marine animal’s distinctive 3-lobed, 3-segmented body type.

Does a Living Trilobite Exist Today?

Science tells us that Trilobites made their last appearance around 251 million years ago. For reference, this period was well before the age of the dinosaurs.

However, among the general public, there remains some confusion about whether or not Trilobite’s are in fact still living and thriving in marine environments. And this confusion is not without merit. There are, in fact, several ‘imposters’ that look eerily similar to the Trilobite, leading some to think that they are still among us.

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For example, aquatic insects (such as water pennies), segmented mollusks (chitons), and a myriad of marine crustaceans (usually isopods), bear resemblance to creatures of times long past.

In this guide, we’ll explore what makes people look twice at these creatures, sometimes mistaking them for the extinct Trilobite.

1. The Water Penny

Of the Phylum Arthropoda (Class Insecta), water pennies are occasionally reported as the potential find of the century: an actual living descendant of the Trilobite.

However, upon closer inspection, these aquatic larvae of the Mataeopsephus (a type of beetle), quickly reveal it’s true nature. A simple flip of the creature on its back reveals several pairs of limbs typical of insects.

Why all the fuss over the water penny? It is postulated that there could be potential for the Trilobite to have survived and evolved over 100+ million years, finding their way into freshwater habitats. However, this is an assertion that currently has no scientific merit beyond conjecture.

2. Chitons

Of the Phylum Mollusca (Class Amphinerura), Chitons represent a common inhabitant of intertidal zones around the world.

What makes these a sometimes-mistaken candidate as a Trilobite? Chitons are notable for their distinctive armored plate outer shell (initially resembling segments similar to those of an arthropod).

Similar to the Water Penny, an inspection of its underside reveals its true nature, displaying a broad, muscular foot (similar to a snail). This is in stark contrast to the multiple jointed walking legs of a Trilobite.

3. Isopods

These hard-shelled, segmented, multi-legged creatures are a pretty convincing trilobite imposter. Under the Phylum Arthropoda (Class Crustacea), these marine dwellers are one of the closest resembling creatures to the Trilobite. This is especially true of the species Serolis Trilobitoides (the name even has ‘trilobit’ in it!).   

4. Tadpole Shrimps

Of the Class Crustacea (Order Notostraca), this group of branchiopod crustaceans is sometimes referred to as “living fossils”, and with good reason. Featuring a cephalon-like head shield and multiple body segments, we can see how they are quite reminiscent of the trilobites of the past.

Exciting, but Not as Exciting as a Living Trilobite

Unfortunately, trilobites have gone the way of the dinosaurs, having become extinct some 251 million years ago. Despite the hope of some scientists, to date, there have been no confirmed discoveries of living trilobites during the time of man. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy these ancient creatures in fossilized form, in books, and in museums.

So the next time you think you may have made the discovery of a lifetime, don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Learn More About Trilobites


Dinosaur Fossil Hunting

Best Places in the US to Find Dinosaur Fossils

Did you know that the USA has the biggest variety of dinosaur remains in the world? Scientists and archaeologists are still regularly unearthing complete skeletons all across the Western and South-western parts of the country, and the best part is, you can join them!

So if youre feeling like channeling your inner Jeff Goldblum and heading out on a dig, heres a list of some of the very best hot spots to find a dinosaur fossil in the US.

The North Dakota Heritage Center, Bismarck, North Dakota.

This 67 million-year-old site sits inside the famous Hell Creek Formation. Back in the Mesozoic era, the area was a huge stretch of shoreline, making it a pretty unique location to study the differences between inland and coastal dwelling animals and foliage of that period.

Today the North Dakota Geological Survey invites members of the public to join them on full day digs to help unearth the many remains that still lie under the surface. Everyone can get involved, from beginners to more seasoned fossil hunters. The most commonly found bones here in Bismarck are from species like the Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, Edmontosaurus, Dromeosaurus, Didelphodon, and the Brachychampsa.

PaleoAdventures, Belle Fourche, South Dakota

This privately owned dig site in the Black Hills of South Dakota is also part of the Hell Creek Formation and sees visitors from around the world who come to unearth the bounty of dinosaur fossils.

The site is run by paleontologist Walter W. Stein who has been digging the area for over 20 years. He even has a dinosaur named after him, the  Dakotaraptor Steini, which was discovered in 2015 by a team from Palm Beach Museum of Natural History.

One of the coolest things about digging here at PaleoAdventures is that you can take home some of your discoveries, like Triceratops teeth, plant fossils and other more commonly found objects. If you find anything truly remarkable, Stein will hold it back to be studied by experts in universities and museums across the country.

These super popular digs last a whole day, from 8 am to 8 pm, and they tend to book up quickly. If you’re lucky, you might discover fossils from species like the Anzu, otherwise known as ‘The Chicken From Hell’, the Dakotaraptor, known as ‘Silky’ and  Ankylosaurus, the ‘Armed Lizard Dinosaur”.

The Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, Bynum, Montana

There are various types of digs you can get involved with here – from simple half-day sessions, perfect for beginners who want a little insight into the process of unearthing dinosaur fossils, to full-day sessions, all the way up to a 6-day camping and digging expeditions up by the Canadian border.

The longer expeditions take place in the Judith River Formation, where you can help archaeologists on their mission to uncover, reassemble and preserve two full dinosaurs.

The shorter day-long sessions usually involve a training session at an inactive/mock-up dig site in the morning, followed by a fully hands-on dig in the afternoon to find yet undiscovered remains.

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, Wyoming

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center is in the heart of the Morrison Formation which is thought to be around 155 million years old.  The center opened in the mid-’90s, and since then over 10,000 bones have been discovered here, mainly from Diplodocus, Camarasaurus, and Apatosaurus dinosaurs.

There are half-day and full-day packages available, but if you’re keen to get the most out of your dig, shoot for the full-day option, as you’ll also get a guided tour of the center’s museum. If you’re lucky enough to find a dinosaur fossil, you’ll be added to their official register and hall of fame, and the item will be stored on-site for further research.

Gear Up and Get Ready to Find Dinosaur Fossils Across the USA

These are just a few of the places across the US where you can practice some hands-on dinosaur fossil discovery. The best sites for finding fossils are usually in the desert, where there arent many trees and other types of plant matter to get in the way of a dig. Most sites that offer great digging potential are made up of sedimentary rock, which does an awesome job of preserving fossils of all types.

Dinosaur fossils have been found in 35 states across the country; not just in the most famous fossil sites of the West and Southwest, but also way up in Alaska and as far south as Alabama. You never know what you might find, even in your own backyard.