An 11-year-old girl from East Tennessee is making headlines after discovering a rare ancient fossil near a lake with her family one afternoon.

Discovering The Fossil

Ryleigh Taylor was walking along the banks of Douglas Lake in Dandrige, Tennessee, when she spotted some rocks. After examining the rocks, she noticed that one of the rocks looked unusual. It turned out that the rock was a 475-million-year-old fossil.

"To find something like that, it's really really cool," Ryleigh told Tennessee television station WATE-TV. "I looked down while I was walking and I found it, I just saw it."

Her family wanted to know more about the fossil. They contacted the University of Tennessee, and they soon discovered that the fossil was a trilobite, a marine creature that lived nearly 500 million years ago.

Colin Sumrall, an associate professor of paleobiology at the University of Tennessee, said that the discovery was unique because fossils of trilobites typically molt and crumble.

"To find one where all the pieces are intact, it's actually a pretty lucky find," said Sumrall.

What Is A Trilobite?

Trilobites were arachnomorph arthropods that existed during the Paleozoic era. They were extinct before the dinosaurs were around on the planet.

Although most trilobites came in different sizes, they all shared some common physical traits, such as cephalon (head), a segmented thorax, and a pygidium (tail). Scientists have spotted fossils of trilobites across all continents.

These animals typically lived in shallow water, although some were able to float on top of the water. Trilobites also fed on detritus or other types of soft food. To hide from pedators, trilobites could use their legs to dig a hole in the bottom of the water.

Since these animals existed all around the world, they had to adapt to different water conditions to survive. As a result, scientists have identified 20,000 different kinds of trilobites. Some trilobites had different types of eyes and vision capabilities than others. A few species were actually blind, but others had a great depth of field to see potential predators and find food.

What's Next For Taylor?

Taylor hopes that her incredible discovery will inspire other children to explore outside and get interested in science. A career in science could also be in the cards for her.

"To find something like that, it could spark this youngster into a whole career. Maybe she'll become a great paleontologist one day," said Sumrall.

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