Earliest animal footprints found in China

The tracks could be from 10 million years before the Cambrian Explosion, a sudden explosion in biodiversity almost half a billion years ago.

The fossilised footprints were discovered by a team of scientists studying trackways and burrows in China.

This is a group of animals characterised by having paired appendages - in this case, perhaps, paired legs.

For comparison, non-bilateral animals include sponges, corals, jellyfish, and anemones.

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.

Researchers do not know what animals made the footprints but have interpreted the two parallel rows of dots as rows of tracks. "This style of preservation is distinct from other types of trace fossils, for example, tunnels or burrows, or body fossils".

According to the team, the animal appeared to have paused time to time as the footprints were connected to burrows.

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Still, this discovery means that paleontologists will have to revise their vision of how life developed in Earth's primordial oceans.

However, until now, no records of such fossils were ever found. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, together with colleagues from Virginia Tech in the United States, studied the trackways and burrows that were discovered in a fossil-rich area close to the Yangtze River. They are one of the most diverse animal groups in existence today. "Late Ediacaran trackways produced by bilaterian animals with paired appendages". The newfound trace fossils are some of the earliest known evidence for animal appendages on record.

All that the prints suggest was they were formed by some kind of bilaterian animal which had multiple paired appendages, like arthropods and annelids, to raise its body above the water-sediment interface.

They are often assumed to have appeared and radiated suddenly during the Cambrian Explosion about 541 to 510 million years ago, although it has always been suspected that their evolutionary ancestry was rooted in the Ediacaran Period.

He also said that arthropods and annelids or their ancestors are possible.

The fossil trackways-preserved between two ancient layers of rock-are very narrow, measuring about half an inch in width.

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