• Cambrian;
  • Olenidae;
  • ontogeny;
  • intraspecific variation;
  • Sweden;
  • trilobites

Abstract:  The ontogeny of the trilobite Protopeltura aciculata (Angelin, 1854) is described on the basis of material from the upper Cambrian (Furongian) of Andrarum (Skåne) and Hjelmsäter (Västergötland), Sweden. P. aciculata is present in the Parabolina brevispina and Parabolina spinulosa zones. Protopeltura aciculata is represented by all stages of growth, from early protaspides to holaspides, although most of the specimens are disarticulated and precise degrees are unknown. The cranidia have therefore been allocated to five morphological groups. Cuticular sculpture of the cranidia changes throughout ontogeny. Large tubercles are present in earlier stages, disappear gradually in middle meraspid stages and are replaced with a very faint granulation. The transitory pygidium, relatively large and shield-shaped with upwardly and backwardly directed marginal spines in early meraspides, later becomes very small, triangular-shaped and lacking spines as a late meraspid and holaspid. The development of hypostomes and librigenae is also described. Protopeltura aciculata shows major intraspecific variations throughout development, especially regarding the pygidium where variation is much less constrained than in many other olenids. This high developmental plasticity may be a survival strategy for a trilobite living in a stressed environment. Protopeltura inhabited a dysoxic environment, possibly unusually prone to localised spreading of anoxic or toxic water. Some morphs may have been less vulnerable than others to such stresses, surviving by chance and thus enabling the species to continue.