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Footprints of 600 Million Years Old Animals Discovered in China

09 June 2018, 11:29 | Kevin Scott

The fossils date back to almost 3.5 billion years ago and are strong evidence of the earliest life that existed on Earth.

Without a complete fossil record though, any presumptions about the animal's habits or needs are pure speculation.

Senior author Shuhai Xiao, who is a geobiologist at the Virginia Tech University, says that the new discovery is a crucial step in identifying the first ever animal that grew a pair of legs.

The oldest known footprints on Earth, left by an ancient creepy-crawly more than 500 million years ago, have been discovered in China.

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.

This suggests that whatever made the prints (scientists still aren't sure what animal they belong to) probably survived by digging into the seafloor to find food and consume oxygen.

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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However, until now, no records of such fossils were ever found. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, together with colleagues from Virginia Tech in the United States, studied the trackways and burrows that were discovered in a fossil-rich area close to the Yangtze River.

The fossil consists of two rows of imprints that represent the earliest known record of an animal with legs. The scientists found the trackways in the Dengying Formation, a site in the Yangtze Gorges area of southern China.

Unfortunately for scientists, the creature that made the footprints did not die nearby and leave an equally well preserved fossil to be studied. "Also, they are organized in repeated groups, as expected if the animal had multiple paired appendages".

"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 USA, wrote in the journal Science Advances.

As modern arthropods and annelids served as appropriate analogs for the interpretation of this fossil, the researchers posit the animal in question could be the ancestor of either of the two groups.

The fossil measures only a few centimeters away, although the researchers did not know how the species looked like.



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