Image The prints were found near the Yangtze Gorges. Credit NIGP
08 June, 2018, 15:25
This places them perhaps even 10 million years before the "Cambrian Explosion" (roughly 541 million years ago), the moment in time which sparked the incredible evolution of life that led to the wonderful diversity of species that we see today.
"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", said Chen.
"Unless the animal died and [was] preserved next to its footprints, it is hard to say with confidence who made the footprints".
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.
The 550-million-year-old tracks measure only a few millimetres in width, and consist of two rows of imprints arranged in what the researchers describe as a "poorly organised series or repeated groups", which could be due to variations in gait, pace, or interactions with the surface of what was once an ancient riverbed. This early evidence of limbed critters is important for scientists, he added, as it can help us understand their evolution.
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.
Professor Shuhai Xiao, senior author of the study and geobiologist at Virginia Tech University, said their findings allow them to understand what species were first to evolve with legs. This sea-dwelling animal had paired appendages that raised its body above the ocean floor, the footprints left behind by its multiple feet suggest.
The earliest animal footprints ever left on our planet were discovered in China, in an old fossil site predating the 'Cambrian Explosion'. They hoped that the sunlight would reveal subtle marks left by ancient organisms on the Shibantan trackways.
While the researchers are unable to identify the animal behind the footprints, there are three types of living animals with paired appendages: arthropods such as bumble bees, annelids such as bristle worms, and tetrapods which include humans.
"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.
The animal appears to have paused from time to time, since the trackways seem to be connected to burrows that may have been dug into the sediment, perhaps to obtain food.
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