Earliest animal footprints found in China

TAMPA, USA - The earliest known footprints left by an animal on Earth, dating back at least 541 million years, have been uncovered in China, a study said Wednesday, June 6.

If you were wondering which is the earliest footprint of animals on Earth, then an global team of scientists can show you the evidence.

The footprints were left by a very early bilaterian, a type of animal with bilateral symmetry (usually characterized by a head at the front, legs on either side, and a back portion at its rear).

The tracks are from the Ediacaran Period, making them the first prints left by animals from that period.

The footprints date from a period called the Ediacara - which spans from the end of the Cryogenian Period 635 million years ago to the beginning of the Cambrian Period 541 Mya.

"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", Xiao explains. But what about Earth - when did animals first leave footprints here?

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

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Prior to this discovery, it was suspected that animals with legs first appeared during this period, but no evidence had ever been found. The team is involved in researching about the tracks and burrows found in the Denying Formation.

"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", the Chinese and American team led by Dr Shuhai Xiao, from Virginia Tech in the United States, wrote in the journal Science Advances.

The characteristics of the trackways indicate that they were produced by bilaterian animals with paired appendages that raised the animal body above the water-sediment interface.

Mystery surrounds the one-millimetre long creatures that made the prints, since no trace of their bodies has been found.

The trackways were also connected to the burrows which just strengthened the hypothesis that they were left by animals who dug burrows in the sediment for food.

'Arthropods and annelids, or their ancestors, are possibilities.

In other words, this prehistoric critter wasn't a biped like you or me, but perhaps something with multiple paired legs - such as a spider, or a centipede - although given we have so little to go upon, the researchers emphasise it's impossible to know for sure what specific form this early walker embodied.

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