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Creation 43(2):40–42, April 2021

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Tremendous trilobites

With complex, compound eyes—complete from creation

by

fig-1-trilobites-displaying-various-features
Figure 1A: Erbenochile erbennii compound eye.  (Moussa Direct Ltd/CC BY-SA 3.0)
B: Cheirurus ingricus. Displaying horns and spines.
(Vassil/CC BY-SA 3.0)
C: Psychopyge elegans.
Displaying horns and spines.
(Wikipedia Loves Art participant ‘Assignment_Houston_One’/CC BY-SA 2.5)
D: Walliserops trifurcatus.
Displaying sensory trident.
(Kevin Walsh/CC BY 2.0)

Trilobites are a wonderfully varied group of extinct marine creatures. They belong to the arthropods (‘jointed limbs’). So, too, do living groups such as insects, millipedes/centipedes, spiders, scorpions, and crustaceans (crabs, prawns, etc.). Trilobites had segmented exoskeletons. These were divided into three longitudinal parts (tri-lobed): the left and right pleural lobes, and the central (axial) lobe (figure 1). Newly discovered compound eye structures have been described in Scientific Reports. They concern fossils of the trilobite Aulacopleura koninckii, which are described as having “modern” compound eyes.1

Complex, compound eyes

These fossils apparently show excellent preservation, particularly of newly discovered visual structures—just like modern compound eyes. In many living creatures, these are very complex. They possess structures that focus light rays. Lens-cone assemblies, like optic fibres, guide light onto patches of light-sensitive pigment cells. Proteins inside pigment cells capture individual light photons. This causes the protein’s structure to temporarily change shape, opening ion channels. Via a highly complex process, the chemical signals are converted into electric ones. These travel along the optic nerve, to the ‘brain’. Here, they are further processed. There is nothing simple about this process.

The components in lens-cone eyes require precise alignment. They need to be constructed of materials with the correct optical properties. Each unit is optically shielded from its neighbour, to inhibit stray light rays.

Modern organisms with compound eyes (e.g. insects and crustaceans) have many lenses. Dragonflies have up to 28,000.2 This astonishing assemblage is capable of processing huge amounts of information. The eyes enable organisms to navigate, find food, detect motion, light, and dark. All this is achieved in miniature, supercomputer brains. In the case of honeybees, they are the size of pinheads!3 Compound eyes can even detect infrared and ultraviolet.4 These are wavelengths of light that so-called higher orders of animals cannot see.

Fantastic fossil finds

These trilobite fossils contain newly discovered optical structures. They are suspected to even contain original pigment, or at least protein ‘relics’.1 However, they are supposedly “429 million years old.” The trilobite eyes (figure 2) are intricately preserved. Surprisingly to evolutionists, they have components present in compound eyes of modern creatures. Researchers report that A. koninckii was:

… equipped with a fully modern type of visual system, a compound eye comparable to that of living bees, dragonflies and many diurnal [daytime-living] crustaceans.1

The visual components discovered are tiny, but have big implications—specifically for trilobite vision, and origins. Compound eyes in living arthropods are made of individual rod-like units called ommatidia (singular ommatidium). These are also seen in trilobite eyes. In A. koninckii they include lens components, an optical fibre, and pigment cells (figure 3).

Eight receptor cells group around the optic fibre—a transparent tube called a ‘rhabdom’ (figure 3 E). These form rosette-like shapes, and are optically shielded by screening pigment cells (figure 3 C & D). Sitting above these are slender, crystalline cones (figure 3 B). Capping these assemblies are thick calcite lenses (figure 3 A). The discoveries required clever microscope detective work. As already mentioned, the eyes seem likely to contain original pigment proteins.

The researchers acknowledge:

… we may be confronted here with relics of the former pigment screen …1

The evidence with which they are “confronted” is contrary to evolution. Complex structures, identical to modern creatures with compound eyes, indicate their non-evolution. These structures are also testament to their recent preservation.

After Schoenemann & Clarkson/CC BY 4.0fig-2-trilobite-fossils
Figure 2 A: Fossil of A. koninckii..
B: Line drawing.
C: An individual eye showing lenses of the ommatidia.

Superb preservation

Fossils of the trilobite involved in this study (A. koninckii) occur in great numbers. Found in a mudstone layer 1.4 m thick, near Loděnice in the Czech Republic, they are described as an “example of excellent preservation.”1 About this exquisite fossilization of even the most delicate, tiny structures, the researchers say: “For a long time it has been thought to be most unlikely that … neural tissues or even receptor cells could be preserved in the fossil record.”1 This evidence fits well with conditions that occurred during Noah’s Flood. Another trilobite from the Lower Cambrian (Schmidtiellus reetae) was described as:

… one of the oldest trilobites that will ever be found. Being excellently preserved in phosphate, it shows distinctive ommatidia … .1

Tremendous trilobites

Trilobite fossils come in many shapes and sizes. Some have flamboyant appendages (figure 1). In life, they had multiple, jointed legs, like terrestrial woodlice (pill-bugs). These creatures appear ‘abruptly’ in the fossil record—with no apparent ancestors. The time and manner of their appearance is part of what is called the ‘Cambrian Explosion’, a term used by secular paleontologists. All of life’s major body plans (along with eyes, brains, nervous systems, jointed legs, shells, etc.) appear as if ‘out of nowhere’. Charles Darwin recognized that this was a serious problem for his theory. Evolution requires a gradual chain of development in the fossil record. So it would predict first different species, then genera, and so on. But the Cambrian explosion had whole phyla appearing suddenly.5 In fact, the order, timing and contents of the fossil record are best explained by Noah’s Flood. This has been repeatedly demonstrated on creation.com.6

Confounding complexity

Nono64/CC BY-SA 3.0ommatidium
Figure 3: A typical ommatidium. A: cornea. B: crystalline cone. C & D: pigment cells. E: rhabdom. F: photoreceptor cells. G: basement membrane. H: optic nerve

Trilobites were marine creatures, so they needed to see clearly underwater. This required extremely clever optics in their compound eyes. The bending of light as it travels from water through the eye surface is less than if from air. So this requires clever design to ensure that the light is still properly focused by the lens. Also, unique to one order of trilobites,7 they were equipped with lenses that correct for an intrinsic defect of all spherical lenses, called spherical aberration. These are similar to those used by modern optical designers. These trilobites’ lenses were constructed from precisely aligned crystals of calcite (CaCO3) and from chitin (a long-chain organic polymer). In the top half of the lens, the calcite crystals refract light along their length (c-axis).8 The lower, chitinous half is precisely shaped to correct for blurring in the spherical calcite lens. These laminate lenses bend and focus light, enabling trilobites to see.9 The complementary shapes of each lens half require precise construction. Such precision engineering and optics led Professor Riccardo Levi-Setti (particle physics, paleontology) to state:

fig-4-light-rays-bent-through-trilobite-lens
Figure 4: Diagram illustrating light-rays bent and focused through trilobite lens. (Fortey, ref. 8, p. 109).

… this optical doublet is a device so typically associated with human invention that its discovery in trilobites comes as something of a shock. The realization that trilobites developed and used such devices half a billion years ago makes the shock even greater. And a final discovery—that the refracting interface between the two lens elements in a trilobite’s eye was designed in accordance with optical constructions worked out by Descartes and Huygens [mid-seventeenth century scientists] borders on sheer science fiction … The real surprise should not be that they did construct eyes that work according to the laws of physics, but that they did it with such ingenuity.10

Richard Fortey, a paleontologist at London’s Natural History Museum agrees. Fortey, who specializes in trilobites, states: “It is an astonishing fact that trilobites have hijacked the special properties of calcite for their own ends … it is fiendishly clever.”11

Conclusion

Beautifully preserved trilobites with unique, complex compound eyes are no “shock” to creationists. Mindless evolution could never construct vision systems of such ingenuity and brilliance. It required a Creator. He perfectly comprehends optics, physics, biology, engineering, and genetic programming. These latest discoveries demonstrate the non-evolution of compound eyes, including the unique eyes of trilobites. God said creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). This included creation’s full functionality. During Noah’s Flood (approximately 4,500 years ago), many trilobites were buried in sediment. This explains their exceptional preservation. The Bible’s history again makes good sense of the evidence.

Posted on homepage: 25 May 2022

References and notes

  1. Schoenemann, B. and Clarkson, E.N.K., Insights into a 429-million-year-old compound eye, Scientific Reports 10:12029, 13 Aug 2020. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., Giant compound eyes, half a billion years ago? Creation 34(4):39, October 2012. Return to text.
  3. Wieland, C., Bees outsmart supercomputers, Creation 33(3):56, July 2011. Return to text.
  4. Sarfati, J., DVD makers copy mantis shrimp eye design, Creation 34(2):56, April 2012. Return to text.
  5. Statham, D., The Cambrian explosion: The fossils point to creation, not evolution, Creation 39(2):20–23, 2017. Return to text.
  6. Is there any type of order in the fossil record? Return to text.
  7. The Phacopida. Other trilobites had eyes with many small lenses, more like other compound eyes and so did not need this specially shaped interface. Return to text.
  8. Fortey, R., Trilobite! Eyewitness to evolution, Flamingo, London, pp. 95–101, 2000. Return to text.
  9. Stammers, C., Trilobite technology, incredible lens engineering in an ‘early’ creature, Creation 21(1):23, 1998. Return to text.
  10. Levi-Setti, R., Trilobites, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 54, 1997. Return to text.
  11. Fortey, Ref. 8, pp. 95, 102. Return to text.

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