New research helps explain how some ancient species hunted and fed, and highlights the shell-crushing power of one large trilobite.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, trilobites filled the ancient seas. Now, their iconic fossils are plucked from shale beds to fill museum shelves and eBay stores, quintessential symbols of the teeming Cambrian Period. There is even at least one newspaper column named for them.
But despite the trilobites’ post-extinction popularity, there is still much we don’t know about their lives. We’re not even quite sure about their diets: While their hardy exoskeletons fossilized easily, the creatures’ guts, which might reveal a last meal, are much harder to find.
Luckily, well-preserved appendages have been discovered for a few species, giving scientists an opportunity to investigate. In a paper published on Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers compared some of these appendages with those of a contemporary creature — the horseshoe crab — to figure out how these ancient animals may have hunted and fed.
Horseshoe crabs have a messy but impressive feeding style: Before chowing down on clams and other mollusks, they use their appendages around their mouths to pulverize their shells. (Imagine picking up an unshucked oyster, crushing it between your hands, and stuffing it into your mouth.)