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Creation 42(3):52–53, July 2020

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Trilobite conga line vs evolutionary timeline


CC-BY-4.0 Vannier, J., Vidal. M., Marchant. R., et al.trilobites-2

Long before the British were famous for queuing, trilobites were showing the way. This collective action is demonstrated in a series of stunning fossil finds of linear trilobite clusters in the upper Tremadocian Fezouata Shale, Morocco (figure 1).1 Trilobites are a group of extinct marine arthropods with a distinct three-lobed body, and some had amazing eye design.2

The research team were clear that the lines of these creatures were not moved into this position by the water or sediment flowing around them. Rather, their conga line was a deliberate shared action which has been magnificently preserved.

One commentator asked the obvious, “So you might be wondering how these chains of trilobites were preserved as if in a snapshot of daily life?”3 Those who believe that the earth is billions of years old may not be happy with the answer.

Why follow the leader?

These fossilized lines are overwhelmingly dominated by the trilobite species Ampyx priscus, which have no eyes. It is believed that the spear-like snout to the front and the long rear-pointing spines acted as mechanoreceptors and/or allowed for chemical communication. Ampyx priscus was probably using “its long projecting spines to maintain a single-row formation by physical contacts”1 or possibly picking up on chemical cues (e.g. pheromones), with those in the line.

Photo: Mark Conlin / VWPics / Alamy Stock Photofig-2
Figure 2. The Caribbean spiny lobster, Palinurus ornatus, migrating in a conga line fashion.

The trilobite line was compared with modern-day marine crustaceans, which also demonstrate similar collective behaviour. The spiny lobster Palinurus ornatus living in the Bahamas region performs mass single-file migrations (figure 2),4 “either in possible response to storm-induced environmental disturbances, or for reaching spawning grounds.”1

The researchers proposed that the trilobites’ behaviour was for similar purposes. Moving in this linear fashion reduces the hydrodynamic drag, saving energy. It may also have been to dissuade possible predators, by presenting as too large to deal with readily.

Photo: Shinya Miyata, Josai Universityfig-3
Figure 3. An oblong school of swimming fish captured in a limestone slab. For more information see: A swimming school of fish fossilized in real time.
Photo: Hou Xian-Guangfig-4
Figure 4. A fossilized migration line of shrimp-like arthropods.

Fast-forming fossils

Whatever the reason for these fossilized trilobite line-ups, one thing is clear—they must have formed rapidly. The researchers came to the same conclusion. None of the trilobite fossils were broken up or dislocated, and very few showed any signs of enrollment—curling up into a defensive ball when feeling threatened. They wrote:

“These linear clusters most likely represent in situ clusters which retain most of the original position of individuals at the time of their death … . The amount of sediment deposited during a storm event was probably sufficient to entomb trilobites … . in situ but not powerful enough to take them away. This process is usually invoked to explain the exceptional and in situ preservation … . [and] The extreme rarity of enrolled specimens in linear clusters would support the hypothesis of a very sudden death either induced by water poisoning or by rapid deposition of sediment which hindered enrollment in most specimens.”1

The rather obvious conclusion is that they were buried exceptionally quickly, not over millions of years.

Adding to the examples

These trilobite queues add to other recent examples of fossilized collective behaviour preserved forever in a freeze frame—such as an entire school of swimming fish (figure 3),5 and a chain of shrimp-like crustaceans (figure 4).6 These fossils all show an entire body of animals operating together in one co-ordinated collective movement.

It is impossible to imagine any plausible explanation for the fossils of the creatures conducting these collective behaviours other than that they formed very quickly. They literally show the way the animals were moving right up to their time of entombment.

While the trilobites are conventionally ‘dated’ to be 480 million years old, the orderly line-up corresponds perfectly with the Bible’s account of world history. The Noahic Flood, around 4,500 years ago, provides the perfect conditions for such fossils to form. The only reason for anyone to reject such an explanation is that they “deliberately overlook” that “the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3:5–6).

Posted on homepage: 11 October 2021

References and notes

  1. Vannier, J. and 8 others, Collective behaviour in 480-million-year-old trilobite arthropods from Morocco, Nature: Scientific Reports 9: 14941, 17 Oct 2019. Return to text.
  2. Stammers, C., Trilobite technology, Creation 21(1):23, Dec 1998. Return to text.
  3. Tarlach, G., Collective Behavior: A 480-million-year-old conga line; discovermagazine.com, 17 Oct 2019. Return to text.
  4. Kanciruk, P. and Hernkind, W., Mass migration of spiny lobster, Panulirus Argus (Crustacea: Palinuridae): behavior and environmental correlates. Bulletin of Marine Science 28(4):601–623, 1978. Return to text.
  5. Mizumoto, N., Miyata, S., and Pratt, S.C., Inferring collective behaviours from a fossilized fish shoal, Proc. R. Soc. B 286:20190891, 2019. Return to text.
  6. Hou, X.-G. and 3 others, Collective behavior in an Early Cambrian arthropod,Science 322(5899):224–224, 2008. Return to text.

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