Andy Secher recollects the first encounter he had with a fossil. He was seven years old, and was riding on the school bus with his classmates when a bus driver pointed out a fossil he had found during a weekend dig upstate New York.
Secher says, "I was fascinated." "And then, I was hooked."
To say that Secher is hooked would be an understatement. Secher, now an adult, has amassed a personal collection totaling around 5,000 fossils. He keeps them in his Manhattan apartment of 1,650 square feet. Secher's passion for fossils, specifically trilobites, extinct, hard-shelled marine invertebrates, led him to become a field associate in paleontology with the American Museum of Natural History. He has been the co-editor of Trilobite.org for the past 15 year.
Secher said, "I joke often that I have the biggest trilobite collection in the Upper West Side." The quip is made more funny by the fact that Secher lives less than half a mile from the museum with its thousands specimens.
What is it that makes trilobites different from other fossils, then? Secher has an easy answer. Secher writes in his book, "Even at an early stage of the history of life upon our planet, trilobite designs had already proven to possess some degree of evolutionary perfection." It's clear why collectors like Secher are so eager for trilobites.
Secher recently added another point to his resume with the publication of Travels with Trilobites Adventures in the Paleozoic. This book takes readers on an adventure to the best places in the world to view these ancient arthropods from museums to fossil beds.
Secher states that he wrote the book to be accessible to laymen and not experts. "I looked up [the late chef/documentarian] Anthony Bourdain when I was writing it. He centered his writings on the people he met and not the food. This was the same approach I used.
This makes perfect sense considering that Secher began his trilobite journey as a layman. He was the editor for Hit Parader, a rock 'n roll magazine, for 30 years. While he learned trilobites, he continued to improve his skills.
He says that his previous job allowed him to travel the globe, visit museums and dig sites and write about trilobites in science publications. I started writing about them because I was an avid fan and out of love for the subject.
Trilobites or "bugs", as they are often called in the paleontology community, look very similar to insects. They also have three main body parts, the cephalon, thorax, and pygidium. These segments are quite common among fossils. They can be found in almost every part of the globe, with around 20,000 trilobite species. Their presence is not always as abundant in certain areas.
Secher also mentions the limestone rich Fillmore Formation, western Utah. He calls it "America's trilobite heaven" because of its rich history as a place where trilobites can be seen outside of museums. In the 19th century, the state's native Ute tribe would drill holes in what they called "animals of rock" and wear their creations around its necks for luck.
Secher wrote in his book, "To magnify the apparent protective powers of these impressive insects, Native American petroglyphs depicting what clearly appears to be trilobites were found adorning old cliff faces throughout this region." The Utes may have been the first to identify the state's trilobite fauna, but they weren't necessarily the last.
What is it that makes trilobites such collectibles? Secher notes that trilobites can be "held in the palm of your hands" for part of their appeal.
He says that a complete trilobite specimen could be embedded in a single limestone shale. You can't make that claim about a dinosaur skull.
These five spots are home to trilobites:
The museum's most prominent attraction is the 122-foot tall Titanosaur. However, the extensive collection of trilobites is worth a visit, particularly for the variety of sizes and shapes that span the Paleozoic Era. Secher was instrumental in acquiring the Levi-Setti Collection, which contains approximately 500 specimens that Riccardo Levi–Setti, a late trilobite collector and physicist, a few years back.
This family-run facility is located in central Utah and offers access to 40 acres worth of excavated shale for visitors to search for trilobites dating back to the mid-Cambrian period. The facility was established in 1994 as part of a college project. Shayne Crapo's uncle was leasing the land. Since then, it has attracted fossil hounds. Adult digs start at $33 and last for two hours. Visitors can expect to find ten to twenty trilobites in a four-hour dig. They range in length from one eighth of an inch to two inches. Elrathia kingi is a common species, as well Asaphiscus wheelseri and Peronopsis intrastricta.
The museum's permanent David H. Koch Hall of Fossils, which is located in the museum's David H. Koch Hall of Fossils, is well-known for its rare trilobite specimens. They include a Trimerus vanuxemi and a Bathynotus Holopygus, both from Vermont. It is the only complete Apianurus species in existence. The collection's crown jewel is a Walcott/Rust specimen from New York.
This 54-acre park was established in the middle of the 1990s on the site of a former cement quarry. The land was acquired by the Hamburg Natural History Society. The fossils found at the site date back to approximately 380million years, the Devonian Period. They include trilobites as well as shelled brachiopods or crinoids. This is a group of marine animals which includes starfish and sea-urchins. Open-pit digging is offered by Penn Dixie, but there are also private collecting expeditions where a guide leads groups of up to eight people to sites that are not accessible to the public. Penn Dixie says that everyone will find something, and it has a gallery of treasures from the past.
This four-day event is attended by everyone, from fossil enthusiasts to serious collectors. Secher calls it the "largest and oldest gem and mineral show in all of the world." He describes it as a place where you can face cephalon (head of a trilobite) with a selection of stunning trilobite specimens. Each specimen is designed to challenge your knowledge as well as your bank account. Although this year's event is over, the next one will be held February 9-12, 2023.