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Earliest animal footprints found in China

08 June 2018

Researchers have unearthed the almost 600 million years old fossil footprints of animals, considered to be the earliest record, in China.

Fossils and footprints can reveal a great deal about what life was like millions of years before humans walked the Earth.

The research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech.

But when did animals leave the first footprint on Earth?

This means that the symmetrical creature appeared before the Cambrian Period, Chen noted. This new find is the first direct evidence of animals with appendages during the Late Ediacaran Period.

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.

Still, due to the proximity of the track marks to fossilised burrows discovered nearby, the researchers hypothesise the creature may have exhibited "complex behaviour", such as periodically digging into sediments to mine oxygen and food among its riverbed habitat. The footprints are organized in two parallel rows, as expected if animals made them with paired appendages.

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The study team involves the scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology.

The fossils date back to the Ediacaran Period, which was between 635 to 541 million years ago.

"Animals use their appendages to move around, to build their homes, to fight, to feed, and sometimes to help mate", Virginia Tech University geobiologist and lead study author Shuhai Xiao told the Guardian.

Unfortunately, the team hasn't got a complete fossil record, and they can not assess the habits or needs of the animal that left those 'footprints.' They didn't find the body fossils of the animal, and they might never find it, as preservation is highly unlikely after so much time.

"Although the exact identity of the trace maker of the Shibantan trackways is hard to determine in the absence of body remains at the end of the trackways, we suggest that the trace maker was probably a bilaterian animal with paired appendages", the authors reported.

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

The fossil trackways-preserved between two ancient layers of rock-are very narrow, measuring about half an inch in width.

Earliest animal footprints found in China