The Earliest Animal Fossil Footprint Record

09 June, 2018, 11:29 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Trackways and burrows excavated in situ from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation. Credit NIGP

"Also, they are organized in repeated groups, as expected if the animal had multiple paired appendages".

As the researchers noted, this was the first evidence of animal footprints from the time before Cambrian explosion - the evolutionary event that occurred 510 to 540 million years ago and marked a major surge in Earth's diversity. Some of Earth's first burrowing creatures emerged during this time, as evidenced by the fossilised burrows themselves.

While we don't know exactly when animals first left tracks on our planet, the oldest footprints ever found were left between 551 million and 541 million years ago during the Ediacaran period, a new study finds.

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

Animals use their appendages or outgrowths to move around, make their homes, feed, and find mates.

The fossils, which were found in the Yangtze Gorges area of south China, lie between two rock layers that have been radiocarbon-dated to 551m and 541m years old, meaning the footprints were made sometime between these dates. "Late Ediacaran trackways produced by bilaterian animals with paired appendages". This means that they lived during the Ediacaran Period, which lasted from 635 to 541 million years ago.


The footprints were left by a very early bilaterian, a type of animal with bilateral symmetry (usually characterized by a head at the front, legs on either side, and a back portion at its rear).

What the team actually reported to have discovered were fossil footprints for animal appendages.

"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.

The Chinese and American team led by Dr Shuhai Xiao, from Virginia Tech in the United States, 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".

The teams consisted of Chinese Academy of Sciences' Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology alongside colleagues from Virginia Tech.

It also seems that the tracks are somehow connected to the burrows, suggesting that whichever animal this might have been, they had a tendency of digging into sediments and microbial mats, most probably in order to search for food and oxygen.

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