The chance to explore extreme habitats around our planet is a privilege that sometimes comes with a cost. For Mark Wong, a National Geographic Youth Explorer, that cost came in a very strange shape indeed. Mark was wandering through the jungle in Singapore on an expedition when he sat down to take a giant swig of water from his flask.
But, in the jungle, sitting down for too long can lead to all sorts of creepy crawlies mistaking you for a piece of foliage.
That’s what happened to Mark when he felt many, many legs started to move up his hand.
Though the bug immediately scuttled away, Mark was able to follow it to a nearby log, which he turned over to discover a centipede-like bug that looks almost prehistoric in its appearance. What he was seeing was the extremely rare and mysterious trilobite beetle that has confounded scientists for almost two hundred years! Mark didn’t know it at the time but seeing a female trilobite in the wild is a rare thing – but not quite as rare as seeing a male trilobite!
Trilobite beetles are named as such because they resemble the armored sea creatures that are often found in fossil remains. In fact, there are a number of bugs and creatures that are called in this way due to their resemblance to the ancient sea-going trilobite.With foldable plates and the ability to retract their head into their shells like tortoises and turtles do, trilobites are pretty cool little bugs. But what is most crazy about them is their crazy sex lives!
No, trilobites aren’t rabid love-makers – in fact, quite the opposite: trilobites seem to have so little sex that the males are almost non-existent and they have only been found having intercourse twice – once in 1924 and once in 1993!
Female trilobites never progress past the larval stage, so they retain this juvenile form almost their whole lives. Male trilobites look so different to the females – actually, more like normal small black bugs – they are only found in the middle of intercourse with females. In any other situation, it is impossible to tell that they are actually trilobites.
Two scientists have dedicated their lives to finding out more about trilobites. One, Victor Mojberg, was the first to find trilobites in the middle of intercourse back in 1924. The second, Alvin Wong – no relation to Mark Wong – also managed to witness the rare event in 1993.
The lengths they went to see this is astonishing. Mojberg rigged up traps for years in the jungle before someone finally brought him a male and female caught in the act on a leaf they’d found.
Mark Wong, the young explorer, is aware of the rarity of his encounter.
“I’ve been flipping over a lot of logs and I’ve only seen one, Wong says. At the same time, he is excited about what other discoveries might come his way. Just like the scientists before him, he holds an innate curiosity about our world: “You never know if there’s something like a trilobite beetle right under your feet,” he says. “So turn over a log, and you might find something interesting.”