Tracking Trilobites: Adventures in Paleontology by Judy Lundquist. Lexington, Kentucky: Kentucky Geological Survey, 2005. $9.43 soft cover; 70 pp; 3 pages of references; 3 pages covering Organizations, Scientific Web Sites and other Web Sites. The book is well illustrated throughout with photographs, drawings and other original art. This is Kentucky Geological Survey Special Publication 4, Series XII, available through the Survey - telephone toll free at (877) 778-7827 for ordering information.
Tracking Trilobites is a book that fills a big void for amateur fossil enthusiasts. Few publications exist that are aimed at a general audience and that communicate solid scientific information in a format and style that is accessible. It also focuses on what has to be the most popular invertebrate fossil of all.
For those of you who don't recognize the author of Tracking Trilobites, Judy Lundquist, she is an amateur paleontologist and member of the Lexington, Kentucky based Kentucky Paleontological Society. The Kentucky Geological Survey provided the review copy of this book and included some additional background information on the author. From the transmittal letter: "Ms. Lundquist has 20 years experience communicating science to the public through programs in museums and national parks, as well as a passion for paleontology. She has written paleontology articles for Blue Ridge Country and Rock & Gem magazines as well as pieces for Fossil Butte National Monument, the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Kentucky Paleontological Society."
Lundquist begins with the much needed pronunciation guide for "tri-lo-bite" and then reminds us why people like trilobites in the first place. She even cites Native American beliefs among the Ute tribe who used the Cambrian Elrathia as a talisman to protect from illness. The translation of the Ute word for trilobite shows native American recognition of extinction and the aquatic nature of the once living form.
What exactly are trilobites? Lundquist covers the basics of the three lobes but incorporates additional information in her narrative. As is typical throughout the book, she includes much more so that the reader is exposed in this case to Linnaean organization and the naming of organisms, how scientists determine relatedness and where trilobites fit into the grand scheme of the arthropod Phylum.
"Trilobite Times" is the section covering the age and time line for trilobites. Not contented with simply stating the age range in years and naming a few Eras, Lundquist provides a complete mini education in geology. Tracking Trilobites covers relative and absolute dating methods in such a way that anyone can understand the principals behind the methods and the ultimate truth of the results. Extinction, diversification and the driving forces for those processes are covered here in the same fashion.
In another well presented section about where trilobites lived, Lundquist educates the reader in plate tectonics and paleo-magnetism. She describes how paleontologists use geological and paleontological evidence to determine not only what was land but where the land was situated when the trilobites lived. Reconstructed world maps of Ordovician and Permian times illustrate the points made in the text. At the end of this section (and others) Lundquist gives another important lesson in science - things can change (the maps in this case) with additional research and scientific discovery and disputes on details between scientists do not kill the theory, they only help make it better.
The largest single section in Tracking Trilobites is "A Close Look at Trilobites." More detailed descriptions of trilobites can be found here. Beginning with the description of what we see most as fossils, the carapace, Lundquist explains a trilobite's range of motion and the process of enrollment and follows that with an illustrated description of the molting process. The last of this section tells the story of what most of us never see on trilobite fossils - the legs and the soft anatomy. The technical terms are kept at a very basic level. In addition to having excellent drawings and photographs, there is yet another well worded narrative explaining it all. Beyond the basic descriptive portions there is the "how we know what we know" explanations that will bring the reader to a better understanding of how science works.
Trilobite eyes were complex and explaining how they worked is not easy. I found the section covering this topic to be the most technical of any in Tracking Trilobites. The text is augmented with high magnification photographs of both trilobite eyes and some modern insect eyes that they most resemble.
How did trilobites live? Swimming, crawling and burrowing are all schemes that trilobites used in their daily lives. They ate and were eaten. Their habitats were the deep sea to shallow waters. The latest in scientific theories are presented along with the reasoning behind these ideas. Trace fossils from trilobites are well illustrated and add to the understanding of how we know some of their behavioral patterns.
Trilobites reproduced. While we may never know all of the ways they handled that, some offerings are made based upon the methods of modern arthropods. Very recent research by Fortey and Hughes propose that some trilobites may have carried their eggs in brood pouches on their heads. This research is included in Tracking Trilobites. Lundquist includes what is known about the developmental stages of trilobites from eggs to bizarre babies and on to adults. One of the microphotographs here is the Chinese Middle Cambrian developing egg that may have been from a trilobite (trilobite or not, it is an amazing artifact of preservation).
Tracking Trilobites is a book specializing in trilobites from Kentucky although most of the information applies to trilobites everywhere. The most Kentucky specific information is contained in "How to Find Trilobites." Having provided a geologic map of Kentucky, Lundquist explains what to expect when collecting in the different types of exposures based upon the geologic age. Basic collecting and safety tips are also included. Although the safety tips listed alert the reader to some possible nasty critters that can be encountered while collecting, Lundquist did omit the super mutant strain of Kentucky chiggers (personal experience!).
Tracking Trilobites ends with seventeen pages of Kentucky trilobite fossil pictures of which about half are Ordovician forms. Here you will see trilobites from smooth to spiny and from whole pristine specimens to bits and fragments.
Sprinkled throughout Tracking Trilobites are sidebars with mini-bios on trilobite scientists. These are interesting asides that may inspire young readers.
A word about the illustrations in general is appropriate. Photographs include those by the author, other amateurs, professionals and museums. All of these are high quality images. Drawings are by the author and professionals. Whether photographs or art, the illustrations were well done and appropriate and supportive to the accompanying text.
The back cover of Tracking Trilobites is a cut-out trilobite model - some assembly required. If you elect to construct this model you will have destroyed the back cover of your book so you will want to buy two copies!
Readability - High School and up.
On the Upside - Good science, good illustrations, well referenced throughout with a subtle lesson in earth science mixed in. Although Kentucky specific regarding species shown, trilobite enthusiasts and those collecting in similar strata will want to have a copy of Tracking Trilobites for the universal trilobite information it contains. Even though this book is about trilobites, what excited me the most was the way Lundquist taught science. She was deliberate in including the how and why, the mistakes and corrections, the agreements and concessions. Too few Americans understand this process and see scientists as devils pushing witchcraft on the masses. Kentucky would be well served to have Judy Lundquist on the State School Board.
On the Downside - I had to dig deep to find any downside for Tracking Trilobites. Although I acknowledge the excellence of the photographs and illustrations, alas, a number of them do not have any scale reference either in the photo or the accompanying text. While enthusiasts may have knowledge of the relative sizes of many of the species pictured, the beginner will not.
Overall Rating - A wonderful book for trilobite enthusiasts from teens to adults. A must have for trilobite collectors that is priced right for the masses.