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Scientists find 540-million-year-old animal footprints

08 June 2018

The fossilised footprints were discovered by a team of scientists studying trackways and burrows in China.

The scientists were examining a geological area known as the Denying Formation in the Yangtze Gorges area of South China.

The Chinese and American team led by Dr Shuhai Xiao, from Virginia Tech in the U.S., wrote in the journal Science Advances: "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".

An worldwide team of scientists has recently uncovered what they believe are the earliest animal fossil footprints on record, Phys.org reports.

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Team-members are unclear whether the creature had two legs or several.

The presence of paired appendages (a primitive version of legs and arms) in the anatomy of this prehistoric creature is mirrored in the way the fossil footprints are laid out, Xiao explains.

The authors can't tell exactly what kind of animal made the tracks, but they can narrow it down to something with pairs of matching legs.

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.

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Animals with bilaterally paired appengages are assumed to have appeared during the Cambrian Explosion, but now their ancestry may be traceable to even further back in history.

The identity of the creature that made the 546-million-year-old tracks is still unknown, but they come from the period when the earliest animals are thought to have evolved. The newfound trace fossils are some of the earliest known evidence for animal appendages on record. As the Inquisitr previously reported, up until that historic event, which lasted for 20-25 million years and gave rise to most of the major animal groups on the planet, animal life on Earth was limited to simpler, single-celled or multicellular organisms.

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 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.

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"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.

Scientists find 540-million-year-old animal footprints