Ontogenetic stages of trilobites have traditionally been recognized on the basis of the development of exoskeletal segmentation. The established protaspid, meraspid, and holaspid phases relate specifically to the development of articulated joints between exoskeletal elements. Transitions between these phases were marked by the first and last appearances of new trunk segment articulations. Here we propose an additional and complementary ontogenetic scheme based on the generation of new trunk segments. It includes an anamorphic phase during which new trunk segments appeared, and an epimorphic phase during which the number of segments in the trunk remained constant. In some trilobites an ontogenetic boundary can also be recognized at the first appearance of morphologically distinct posterior trunk segments. Comparison of the phase boundaries of these different aspects of segment ontogeny highlights rich variation in the segmentation process among Trilobita. Cases in which the onset of the holaspid phase preceded onset of the epimorphic phase are here termed protarthrous, synchronous onset of both phases is termed synarthromeric, and onset of the epimorphic phase before onset of the holaspid phase is termed protomeric. Although these conditions varied among close relatives and perhaps even intraspecifically in some cases, particular conditions may have been prevalent within some clades.

Trilobites displayed hemianamorphic development that was accomplished over an extended series of juvenile and mature free-living instars. Although developmental schedules varied markedly among species, morphological transitions during trilobite development were generally regular, limited in scope, and extended over a large number of instars when compared with those of many living arthropods. Hemianamorphic, direct development with modest change between instars is also seen among basal members of the Crustacea, basal myriapods, pycnogonids, and in some fossil chelicerates. This mode may represent the ancestral condition of euarthropod development.

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