US, Chinese scientists find oldest animal tracks

The animal appears to have paused from time to time since the trackways appear to be connected to burrows that may have been dug into the sediment

The animal appears to have paused from time to time since the trackways appear to be connected to burrows that may have been dug into the sediment

The study says that these footprints were about five hundred and fifty-one million years ago.

The oldest footprints left by an animal have been recently uncovered in southern China.

The Chinese tracks show two rows of imprints arranged in repeating groups, indicating the animals that left them would have been bilaterian - they had pairs of legs.

For comparison, non-bilateral animals include sponges, corals, jellyfish, and anemones.

Recently, an worldwide research team reported discovering fossil footprints for animal appendages in the Ediacaran Period (about 635-541 million years ago) 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.

The researchers don't yet know exactly what animal left these tracks, and unfortunately we may never know.

The fossils are just a few millimetres in width and Xiao's team spotted them after painstakingly tilting rock slabs at different angles so the sunlight would illuminate any subtle traces left by ancient bugs.

No body fossils for these animals have been found yet, however, and the scientists believe such remnants may not have been preserved.

Still, this discovery means that paleontologists will have to revise their vision of how life developed in Earth's primordial oceans.

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.

"Previously identified footprints are between 540 and 530 million years old", Dr Zhe Chen from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology told MailOnline.

The fossil tracks offer "some of the earliest known evidence for animal appendages and extend the earliest trace fossil record of animals with appendages from the early Cambrian (485 million to 541 million years ago) to the late Ediacaran Period".

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. Today, these creatures are spread throughout the Earth and are among the most diverse forms of animal life on the planet, notes the report.

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.

Trackways and burrows excavated in situ from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation.

"This style of preservation is distinct from other types of trace fossils, for example, tunnels or burrows, or body fossils".

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