Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Sci-tech | By Brandy Patterson

Earliest animal footprints found in China, study shows


"The rock that contains the fossil has been very well dated between 551 and 541 million years old", study author Zhe Chen, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Agence France-Presse in an email.

"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", Xiao said.

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

Researchers have discovered the earliest known animal fossil footprints in South China, dating back about 635-541 million years.

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Life during the Ediacaran was characterized by algae, lichens, giant protozoans, worms, and various bacteria, but there's still a lot that paleontologists don't know about it.

"The footprints are organized in two parallel rows, as expected if they were made by animals with paired appendages". "This style of preservation is distinct from other types of trace fossils, for example, tunnels or burrows, or body fossils".

Both the footprints and the borrows are known as "trace fossils", a term that refers to fossilized remnants that animals leave behind, such as fossilized poop, rather than fossils of the animals themselves.

The remarkable discovery reveals how creatures with paired legs were scuttling around over 100million years earlier than previously thought.

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The team from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech in the United States discovered two rows of imprints that are arranged in a series or repeated groups in irregular trackways and burrows. Today, these creatures are spread throughout the Earth and are among the most diverse forms of animal life on the planet, notes the report.

Trackways and burrows excavated in situ from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation.

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

As the researchers noted, this was the first evidence of animal footprints from the time before Cambrian explosion - the evolutionary event that occurred 510 to 540 million years ago and marked a major surge in Earth's diversity.

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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. Maybe they were never preserved.

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