These Are The Oldest Animal Footprints Ever Discovered on Our Planet

But they say the tracks probably belong to a bilaterian.

The fossil tracks offer "some of the earliest known evidence for animal appendages and extend the earliest trace fossil record of animals with appendages from the early Cambrian (485 million to 541 million years ago) to the late Ediacaran Period".

Created before the Cambrian Explosion-a sudden burst in animal diversity that took place about 541 million years ago-scientists think these are the oldest trackways ever discovered on Earth.

The Chinese and American team led by Dr Shuhai Xiao, from Virginia Tech in the U.S., wrote in the journal Science Advances: "The irregular arrangement of tracks in the trackways may be taken as evidence that the movement of their trace maker's appendages was poorly coordinated and is distinct from the highly coordinated metachronal (wave-like) rhythm typical of modern arthropods".

However, this creature - which provides the earliest evidence of an animal with legs - would have existed around 10 million years before then.

The study was published online today (June 6) in the journal Science Advances.

Researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech studied ancient trackways and burrows found in the Yangtze Gorges area of South China. "Also, they are organised in repeated groups, as expected if the animal had multiple paired appendages".

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Tampa: The earliest known footprints left by an animal on Earth, dating back some 541 million years, have been uncovered in China, a study said Wednesday.

"Animals use their appendages to move around, to build their homes, to fight, to feed, and sometimes to help mate", one of the researchers, geobiologist Shuhai Xiao from Virginia Tech University, told The Guardian.

The body fossils of the animals that made these traces, however, have not yet been found. They hoped that the sunlight would reveal subtle marks left by ancient organisms on the Shibantan trackways.

Near the ancient footprints, the team found fossilized burrows, which suggests that the animal might have been periodically tunneling into sediments and microbial mats, either in search of food or perhaps to mine for oxygen.

"Together, these trackways and burrows mark the arrival of a new era characterized by an increasing geobiological footprint of bilaterian animals", the researchers point out.

He added: "At least three living groups of animals have paired appendages (represented by arthropods, such as bumblebees; annelids, such as bristle worms; and tetrapods, such as humans)".

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