Scientists find 540-million-year-old animal footprints

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

This places them perhaps even 10 million years before the "Cambrian Explosion" (roughly 541 million years ago), the moment in time which sparked the incredible evolution of life that led to the fantastic diversity of species that we see today.

The trackways' characteristics indicate that a bilaterian animal - that is, a creature with bilateral symmetry that has a head at one end, a back end at the other, and a symmetrical right and left side - made the tracks.

Scientists have found what they think is the oldest animal footprint in the fossil record, uncovering incredibly ancient track marks imprinted in the dirt as far back as 550 million years ago.

However, this creature - which provides the earliest evidence of an animal with legs - would have existed around 10 million years before then.

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"The rock that contains the fossil has been very well dated between 551 and 541 million years old", study author Zhe Chen, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told AFP in an email.

An worldwide team of scientists, including researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, and Virginia Tech in the United States, conducted the study. This early evidence of limbed critters is important for scientists, he added, as it can help us understand their evolution. This sea-dwelling animal had paired appendages that raised its body above the ocean floor, the footprints left behind by its multiple feet suggest. 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.

Dr Shuhai Xiao of Virginia Tech said, 'If an animal makes footprints, the footprints are depressions on the sediment surface, and the depressions are filled with sediments from the overlying layer. The fossils date back to almost 3.5 billion years ago and are strong evidence of the earliest life that existed on Earth.

The researchers speculate that the same creature left both the tracks and the burrows, suggesting an animal that scurried and tunneled its way across the ground. 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.

"At least three living groups of animals have paired appendages (represented by arthropods such as bumble bees, annelids such as bristle worms, and tetrapods such as humans)".

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