Earliest animal footprints found in China

An worldwide team of scientists has reported the discovery of oldest footprints ever found on Earth, which was left behind by a mysterious animal that roamed our planet sometime between 541 and 551 million years ago - way before many known animals, including dinosaurs, thrived and became extinct. They are often assumed to have appeared and radiated suddenly during the "Cambrian Explosion" about 541-510 million years ago, although it has always been suspected that their evolutionary ancestry was rooted in the Ediacaran Period.

A staff member of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences displays the animal fossil footprints, which were made in the Ediacaran Period, June 6, 2018.

Scientists announced Wednesday that they have discovered the oldest known footprints of an animal. However, without a fossil record, it's hard to make any solid assumptions about the creature.

The trackways were also connected to the burrows which just strengthened the hypothesis that they were left by animals who dug burrows in the sediment for food.

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

Professor Shuhai Xiao, senior author of the study and geobiologist at Virginia Tech University, said their findings allow them to understand what species were first to evolve with legs.

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A set of footprints discovered in an ancient seafloor in the Yangtze Gorges in China reveals what creature on Earth is first to develop feet.

Animals with bilaterally paired appengages are assumed to have appeared during the Cambrian Explosion, but now their ancestry may be traceable to even further back in history.

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.

"Animals use their appendages to move around, to build their homes, to fight, to feed, and sometimes to help mate", he said, adding that the movement of sediments by the first legged creatures could have had a major impact on the Earth's geochemical cycles and climate.

Both the footprints and the borrows are known as "trace fossils", a term that refers to fossilized remnants that animals leave behind, such as fossilized poop, rather than fossils of the animals themselves.

It's possible that the bodies were never actually preserved.

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