Simanaitis Says

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NO FAIR if you just name some geriatric neighbor who complains about your loud music. I mean a genuine preserved relic from a previous geologic age. Wikipedia has a list of state fossils, with the caveat that some states have none and others hedge with a state rock, gem, or stone, which is not quite the same thing in my book. I name no names.

State fossils come to mind because the September 22, 2017, issue of Science, published weekly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, announced “Giant Trilobite Crashes Wisconsin Corn Field,” which is hardly a headline one could ignore.

“Autumn means lots of things in the Midwest, including the kickoff of corn maze season,” begins the News item. “Most mazes draw on sports or pop culture, but one farmer in Wisconsin has grown a uniquely science-themed crop. After being approached by geologists at the University of Wisconsin’s Geology Museum in Madison, she modeled her maze after the state fossil.

The trilobite Calymene celebra is Wisconsin’s official state fossil. Unearthed from Niagaran Dolomite, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Image by Ushakaron.

Trilobites are three-lobed fossils of an extinct marine arachnomorph (spider-like) arthropod (footed creature). They roamed oceans from the Early Cambrian period (521 million years ago), through the lower Paleozoic and Devonian, until the last of them died out at the end of the Permian (about 252 million years ago). Folks who assess such things consider trilobites among the most successful of all early animals, what with their run of 270 million years.

To put this in perspective, dinosaurs reigned for some 165 million years, 230 million to 65 million years ago. By contrast, our earliest ancestors have been around for only six million years; modern humans, relative newcomers at 200,000 years. I wouldn’t feel all that superior to the little trilobite just yet.

Trilobites left an extensive fossil record which helped facilitate important findings in paleontology, biostratigraphy, plate tectonics, and evolutionary biology.

Given their scientific renown, it’s no wonder that trilobites were chosen by Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin for their state fossils. No doubt to avoid rivalries of similar mascots, each state selected a particular trilobite from a specific geologic era. Ohio’s Isotelus maximus thrived during the Ordovician period, as did Wisconsin’s Calymene celebra. Pennsylvania’s Phacops rana was a trilobite-come-lately, flourishing during the Devonian.

Fossillady says of Wisconsin’s Calymene celebra, “His species had smaller eyes than many other species and was probably a sluggish swimmer…. The Genus Calymene means beautiful crescent as a reference to the glabella facial structure (the axial lobe of the cephalon or head forming a dome).”

I looked up these other terms and am honestly none the wiser for it. Nor can I offer what made this particular Calymene a celebrated species. P.E. Raymond probably knew; he wrote about it in the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, 1916.

Several tidbits on the Ordovician: This period began with the Cambrian-Ordovician Extinction Event, about 485.4 million years ago, and ended with the Ordovician-Silurian Extinction Event, about 443.8 million years ago. A busy 41.6 million years indeed and, according to specialists, a period with about 100 times more meteorites striking the Earth per year than today.

The Wisconsin corn maze, ringed by a natural science “cabinet of curiosities,” including the state mineral, galena, at lower left. Image from Science, September 22, 2017.

The Wisconsin corn maze trilobite is 480 ft. from cephalon to pygidium; that’s from head to tail for the likes of me. In complete candor, it’s noted that the corn maze design is modeled after the spiny Ceraurus rather than the perhaps less artful Calymene.

Ceraurus trilobote with baby resides at the Houston Museum of National History. Image by Daderot.

Yes, I can see what Fossillady says about Calymene celebra. Its eyes are kinda small. ds

© Dennis, 2017


  1. jlalbrecht64
    October 5, 2017

    Richard Overton – and he’s not my neighbor!

  2. simanaitissays
    October 5, 2017

    Your comment prompted this research: Richard Arvin Overton is quite a guy. On April 11, 2017, he turned 111 years old. Mr. Overton, an African-American, is the oldest surviving U.S. veteran and the oldest American man. (He’s more than a fossil; he’s a national treasure!)

  3. Mike B.
    October 7, 2017

    California’s state fossil is the sabre-toothed cat. Kind of fits with the vulture capitalists…

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