Thursday, 21 June, 2018

Scientists find 540-million-year-old animal footprints

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Elijah Vega | 08 June, 2018, 22:23

This image courtesy of Zhe Chen and Shuhai Xiao and released by Virginia Tech University on June 6, 2018, shows, the earliest known footprints left by an animal on Earth uncovered in China, and date back some 541 million years ago, a study said June 6.

It was a commonly held belief in scientific circles that animals with limbs and jointed appendages did not appear and diversify till the Cambrian Explosion that took place around 541 to 510 million years ago.

"This is considered the earliest animal fossil footprint record", said the report in the USA journal, Science Advances.

These animals are long gone and extinct, but they've made their mark on ancient rocks, making it possible for scientists to piece together the world back then.

The tracks are actually older than any fossil of a creature with legs, so scientists are puzzled by what created the footprints.

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

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They were discovered by researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech in the United States. The tracks seem to have been found in the mountainous Yangtze Gorges, in southern China.

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 unbelievable diversity of species that we see today.

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. They observed the trackways, which were not regular, and after analyzing their characteristics, they reached the conclusion that these were formed by bilaterian animals with paired appendages.

"This is considered the earliest animal fossil footprint record", the researchers wrote in the report.

'Arthropods and annelids, or their ancestors, are possibilities. No fossils has been found in the fossil record, and the odds are it never will be found - it was a stroke of luck that the tracks were even preserved.

However, the fossil record of animal appendages confirms that their evolutionary ancestry was rooted in the Ediacaran Period, the researchers noted.

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