Abstract

Onset of maturity in trilobites is generally considered to occur when the last trunk segment is released into the thorax, marking the start of the holaspid stage. Here we describe striking morphological changes that occur within the holaspid ontogeny of Lonchopygella megaspina Zhou inZhou et al., 1977, which include the effacement of dorsal furrows, the rapid and complete degeneration of pygidial lateral spines, and the increasing prominence of a pygidial axial spine. These notable changes, which are not coincident with the onset of the holaspid phase, emphasize that the onset of maturity in trilobites should be viewed on a character-by-character basis before assessing whether the exoskeleton as a whole can be described as mature. The holaspid pygidial condition in L. megaspina may represent an intermediate step in an evolutionary transition in the number, form, and allocation of segments in the tsinaniid trunk. Pygidial transition from a dynamically changing complement of segments in the meraspid phase to a static complement in the holaspid phase was accompanied by a marked change in the extent to which segment boundaries defined pygidial structure. Attaining this static complement allowed subsequent pygidial development to emphasize its structure as an integrated unit in which internal segmental boundaries became diffuse, a continuous margin to become prominent, and an elongated terminal spine, first evident at onset of epimorphic growth, to develop allometrically. Trilobite body development suggests that while the segmented construction placed constraints on how morphology varied, the influence of these constraints diminished following completion of thoracic segment construction. Selective premium for a distinct posterior tagma might favor the early ontogenetic acquisition of such a structure, and could have been a driver of the repeated trend toward caudalization witnessed among derived trilobite clades.

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