Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Scientists find 540-million-year-old animal footprints

Scientists find 540-million-year-old animal footprints

The trackways are irregular, the scientists found, with two rows of imprints that suggest they were created by a bilaterian animal whose appendages raised it above the ground.

"Although the exact identity of the trace maker of the Shibantan trackways is hard to determine in the absence of body remains at the end of the trackways, we suggest that the trace maker was probably a bilaterian animal with paired appendages", the authors reported.

While we don't know exactly when animals first left tracks on our planet, the oldest footprints ever found were left between 551 million and 541 million years ago during the Ediacaran period, a new study finds.

That's why these Dengying track marks are a big deal for our understanding of evolutionary history - one small step for a bilaterian perhaps, but one giant leap for animal kind. "Also, they are organised in repeated groups, as expected if the animal had multiple paired appendages".

Prof Shuhai Xiao, a geobiologist at Virginia Tech University and senior author of the research, said the finding brings scientists closer to understanding what creatures were the first to evolve pairs of legs. The fossils date back to almost 3.5 billion years ago and are strong evidence of the earliest life that existed on Earth.

Scientists think they have discovered the 550-million-year-old footprints of a small bug-like animal in the Yangtze Gorges area of China. They hoped that the sunlight would reveal subtle marks left by ancient organisms on the Shibantan trackways. Take that, rest of the pre-Cambrian life forms!

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"Animals use their appendages to move around, to build their homes, to fight, to feed, and sometimes to help mate", he said, adding that the movement of sediments by the first legged creatures could have had a major impact on the Earth's geochemical cycles and climate.

"It is important to know when the first appendages appeared, and in what animals, because this can tell us when and how animals began to change to the Earth in a particular way".

The trackways appear to be connected to burrows, suggesting that the animals may have periodically dug into sediments, perhaps to mine oxygen and food.

'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.

This is a sign of "complex behavior involving both walking and burrowing", the team argues in the paper.

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

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