Scientists Discover the Oldest Animal Footprints on Earth

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They are often assumed to have appeared and radiated suddenly during the Cambrian Explosion about 541 to 510 million years ago, although it has always been suspected that their evolutionary ancestry was rooted in the Ediacaran Period.

The team from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech in the United States discovered two rows of imprints that are arranged in a series or repeated groups in irregular trackways and burrows.

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

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.

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They said they don't know exactly what species the footprints belong to, but described the creature as a bilaterian animal, like an arthropod.

The scientists claim that the current findings bore a resemblance with the fossil prints that date back to the period between four hundred and nineteen to three hundred and fifty-eight million years ago.

Bilaterian animals have until now been assumed to have appeared and radiated suddenly during the "Cambrian Explosion" about 541-510 million years ago.

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.

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"It is important to know when the first appendages appeared, and in what animals, because this can tell us when and how animals began to change to the Earth in a particular way", Xiao said.

"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. Further analysis also showed that that the footprints have two rows of imprints, suggesting that the creature lived along the riverbed.

'This style of preservation is distinct from other types of trace fossils, for example, tunnels or burrows, or body fossils. This means that the mystery animal might have periodically dug into the ocean floor's sediments and microbial matts, possibly to mine for oxygen and food, the researchers said.

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. 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.

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