Scientists find 540-million-year-old animal footprints

Scientists find 540-million-year-old animal footprints

The oldest known footprints on Earth, left by an ancient creepy-crawly more than 500 million years ago, have been discovered in China.

This 'explosion' - which ignited some 541 million years ago - saw the rapid emergence of a diversified spread of animal phyla over a period lasting perhaps 25 million years. The research was published in Science Advances on June 6, 2018.

The oldest footprints left by an animal have been recently uncovered in southern China. This new find is the first direct evidence of animals with appendages during the Late Ediacaran Period.

"We do not know exactly what animals made these footprints, other than that the animals must have been bilaterally symmetric because they had paired appendages", Xiao explains. Precisely what the creature looked like is a mystery, though: nothing this old with legs has been discovered to date.

They were discovered by researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech in the United States.

They date from about 540 million years ago, researchers say.

The print also suggests that the legs raised the animal above the sediment as it was moving across, so it wasn't simply dragging itself.

The researchers speculate that the same creature left both the tracks and the burrows, suggesting an animal that scurried and tunneled its way across the ground.

'At least three living groups of animals have paired appendages (represented by arthropods such as bumble bees, annelids such as bristle worms, and tetrapods such as humans)', said Dr Chen.

"Arthropods and annelids, or their ancestors, are possibilities".

It is believed most major animals capable of leaving footprints appeared during and after this event, but many have suspected there might be some more ancient fossils that could reveal the evolutionary ancestry of the animals that thrived later.

"The footprints are organised in two parallel rows, as expected if they were made by animals with paired appendages", Xiao told The Independent.

Now, the discovery of the trackways and burrows shows that animals with appendages lived during the Ediacaran period, the researchers said.

"These trace fossils include burrows and possible trackways that are preserved in close proximity and are apparently connected", the scientists noted in an introduction to the report.

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