Did you know that some trilobites may have lived similarly to social insects?
Trilobites were one of the most significant inhabitants of the Paleozoic oceans and today rank among the most popular fossils ever. Their abundance allows us to conduct detailed investigations of their morphology, lifestyle and evolutionary history.
One of the plentiful species is Aulacopleura konincki, found in Silurian (444-416 million years ago) rocks of the Czech Republic, not far from Prague. Aulacopleura konincki ranks among the smaller trilobites, with a body length of 1-3 cm, and lived on slopes of oceanic volcanic islands. Occasionally, individuals of the species were buried by volcanic ash on the shallow see bottom, and so today we can find entire groups of their bodies preserved in geological layers. Consequently, Aulacopleura konincki is often displayed in museums all over the world, as well as individual collections.
Aulacopleura konincki is interesting in that adults have a large number of body segments, but not a fixed number, ranging from 18 to 22. This is unusual, since adult trilobites of a species almost always have the same number of body segments. Due to the varying number of segments in adults and the large numbers of individuals present in numerous clusters of the fossils, some scientists argue that Aulacopleura konincki was a social animal. Adults may have comprised various castes according to the number of body segments, similarly to workers or drones in bees. Definite conclusions to these surmises await further study.