Trilobite fossils...found in Southern Illinois, just not anywhere near a rugged mountain terrain, since we don’t have very many mountains in our little corner of the world.

Fossils...about the hunt...and the memories...

Please read this...

Long ago, as in long, long, long, long ago, critters called trilobites wandered around on the bottom of the ocean in what is now Union County.

Trilobites kind of resembled little creatures which are wandering around the planet today called sowbugs and pillbugs. Sometimes, we call them roly-polies. Truth be told, I thought sowbugs and pillbugs were the same thing. Wrong.

While doing a little bit of intense research on the internet last weekend for about three minutes, I stumbled across a blog with a catchy headline: “Holy Moly It’s a ‘Roly Poly’ - Sowbugs and Pillbugs.” The blog, dating to January of 2014, was written by a University of California Master Gardener. 

“Sowbugs and pillbugs are similar in appearance and their names are sometimes used interchangeably,” the blog explained. 

“However, the sowbug has a pair of tail-like appendages which project out from the rear of its body, while the pillbug has no extreme posterior appendages, and can roll up into a tight ball when disturbed. This is why pillbugs are sometimes called ‘Roly-Poly’ bugs.”

Guess that means the little critter that I picked up last Saturday at home that rolled up into a tight ball when I disturbed it was a roly-poly. Learn something new every day.

While trilobites may resemble roly-polies, just a little bit, the creatures are not related. Trilobites vanished from the planet millions of years ago. 

Trilobites did not disappear completely. They left behind some treasures. We call them fossils.

As you may recall from reading this column, I enjoy hunting for fossils. We’ll call it a hobby. That’s why a recent headline on The Wall Street Journal’s website caught my eye.

“Why Fossil Hunting Is the Next Big Hobby – Seriously” the headline declared. I’m not quite sure “Seriously” was needed in the headline, but there it was.

“Indiana Jones was no mere grubby excavator,” the article began. Indeed, Indiana Jones was more than a “grubby excavator.” He was an archaeologist. And, for whatever it might be worth, folks who like to hunt for fossils are partaking of paleontology. Not archaeology. We are quibbling. I just don’t expect to see a movie called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Trilobites” any time soon.

The Wall Street Journal article suggested that for folks who might be looking “to expend pent-up wanderlust and perhaps brag a little, the paleontological pastime of fossil hunting has becoming an increasingly popular Jonesian pursuit.”

The article offered a few ideas on “where to search” for fossils: “Next time you’re near a coastal shoreline or river bank, keep your eyes peeled (and a chisel handy) and you might return from your walk with an ammonite from the Jurassic or Cretaceous period in your pocket. These common fossils can be identified by their spherical, gray nodules that peek out of jagged limestone or shale shards located at the base of beachside cliffs or along rocky shores.

“In rugged mountain terrain stream beds and creeks, these same limestone shards are more likely to hold rarer (but not impossible-to-find) trilobites, which resemble many-legged beetles lying face-up on their backs.”

Southern Illinois is pretty much lacking in rugged mountain terrain stream beds and creeks, but trilobite fossils can be found in Little Egypt. I can say that from experience. Finding such treasures requires a sharp eye, and a willingness to occasionally get face-to-face with the rocks beneath your feet.

You might also be able to find fossils of seashells and creatures called crinoids, or sea lilies. That’s all part of the fun of the hobby. You never really know what you might find. 

Finding a “complete” trilobite is on my bucket list. Generally, I find parts of the critters. I know a whole one is out there somewhere, just waiting to be found.

(If you do decide to try a little bit of fossil hunting, make sure that it’s OK to collect such treasures where you might be visiting. If you go hunting on private property, make sure you get permission.)

Fossil hunting gives you a chance to spend some time in the great outdoors. Nowadays, that’s not a bad thing at all.

And, like other kinds of hunting, looking for fossils is about creating special memories... a kid finding a really nice horn coral fossil while on a hike during summer camp near Grafton, Illinois... two kids, a mom and a dad heading out to a local creek bed on a cool and sunny afternoon in the fall, looking for fossils together...maybe even finding one or two worth taking home... a dad watching with pride while his daughter joins with other young people and their mentor during a fossil field trip stop in a creek bed somewhere in southern Indiana...and...later...on the same field trip...walking on a bed of fossils along the Ohio River...across the water from Louisville, Kentucky... a crisp, clear and cold Christmas Eve visit to a special place not far from home, where it’s pretty easy, if you have a sharp eye, to find a fossil seashell...maybe even a trilobite...before heading back to where it’s warmer...for a mug of hot tea, hot chocolate or hot spiced cider...and then tossing something on the grill...because that’s what we do on December 24... looking at the crinoid fossil I wear on my wrist...a treasure found long ago on one of our hunting adventures...’s about the hunt, but, perhaps even better, it’s about the memories...and you might even find a roly-poly or two...

The Gazette-Democrat

112 Lafayette St.
Anna, Illinois 62906
Office Number: (618) 833-2158

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