Abstract

The largest known trilobite fossil, a virtually complete articulated dorsal shield of the asaphid Isotelus rex new species, has been recovered from Upper Ordovician (Cincinnatian, Richmondian) nearshore carbonates of the Churchill River Group in northern Manitoba. At over 700 mm in length, it is almost 70 percent longer than the largest previously documented complete trilobite, and provides the first unequivocal evidence of maximum trilobite length in excess of one-half metre. Comparisons with other fossil and extant members of the phylum suggest that in terms of maximum linear dimensions it was among the biggest arthropods ever to have lived. Sediments of the Churchill River Group were deposited in an equatorial epeiric setting and the extremely large size of I. rex n. sp. thus marks a striking example of low-latitude gigantism, in sharp contrast to the widespread phenomenon of “polar gigantism” in many modern marine benthic arthropods. Lack of extensive epibiontic colonization of the exoskeletal surface and the presence of large distinctive trace fossils in the same unit suggest that I. rex n. sp. may have been a semi-infaunal predator and scavenger that employed a shallow furrowing and probing mode of benthic feeding. The extinction of the isotelines (and virtually the entire asaphide lineage) at the end of the Ordovician cannot be related to the near contemporaneous achievement of exceptionally large adult size in some representatives. Failure to survive the terminal Ordovician extinction event was most likely a consequence of a pelagic larval life-style that proved ill-adapted to the rapid onset of global climatic cooling and loss of tropical shelf habitats.

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