Traditionally, the distinction between meraspis and holaspis among trilobites has been based on the achievement of the full adult complement of thoracic segments. Using a large sample (over 700 specimens collected from a single bed) we explore the utility of employing the ontogenetic trajectory of the cranidium as an alternative means to differentiate trilobite growth stages. This method is particularly useful for species represented solely by exuviae and disarticulated individuals. We use geometric morphometrics to examine shape change among cranidia ranging in size from 0.9 mm to 11.6 mm in cephalic length. The 114 measured specimens exhibit a rather continuous gradation in size in which no distinct instars are evident.
The meraspid and holaspid specimens exhibit allometry when partial warp scores and uniform components of shape derived from thin-plate spline analysis are regressed onto log centroid size. To describe allometric shape change, deformation vectors from the smallest to the largest specimen in both ontogenetic stages are presented in three different superimposition settings by using a new software program. We have concluded that a new superimposition method (the Sliding Baseline Registration) is a useful tool for visualizing allometry in organisms that contain an axis of symmetry. As a result, we conclude that allometry is evident in meraspides and holaspides, but the degree of allometry in holaspides is very small relative to that in meraspides. The boundary between meraspis and holaspis in Triarthrus becki appears to correspond to a large change in the rate of ontogenetic change, but neither to a change in the direction of that trajectory nor to a cessation of ontogenetic change. This boundary also corresponds to a cranidium centroid size that matches well previous determinations that holaspis begins at about 2.8 mm in cephalic length.