Earliest animal footprints found in China

However, until now, no records of such fossils were ever found. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, together with colleagues from Virginia Tech in the USA, studied the trackways and burrows that were discovered in a fossil-rich area close to the Yangtze River.

The rock layers where the fossils were found date between 551 million and 541 million years ago, suggesting the footprints were made some time between those dates.

"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. The Denying Formation signifies as a fossil-rich area present near the banks of Yangtze River. Some of Earth's first burrowing creatures emerged during this time, as evidenced by the fossilised burrows themselves. This new discovery is not providing scientists with all the needed information, so for now we can not really determine what type of animal the footprints might have belonged to.

This 'explosion' - which ignited some 541 million years ago - saw the rapid emergence of a diversified spread of animal phyla over a period lasting perhaps 25 million years.

The study entitled "Late Ediacaran trackways produced by bilaterian animals with paired appendages" was published June 6 in the journal Science Advances.

The 550-million-year-old tracks measure only a few millimetres in width, and consist of two rows of imprints arranged in what the researchers describe as a "poorly organised series or repeated groups", which could be due to variations in gait, pace, or interactions with the surface of what was once an ancient riverbed.

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"Ediacaran trace fossils provide key paleontological evidence for the evolution of early animals and their behaviors", researchers write in their study.

This suggests that whatever made the prints (scientists still aren't sure what animal they belong to) probably survived by digging into the seafloor to find food and consume oxygen. The body fossils of the animals that made these traces, however, have not yet been found.

Experts previously believed that this type of creature appeared during the "Cambrian Explosion" around 541 to 510 million years ago.

The tracks are from the Ediacaran Period, making them the first prints left by animals from that period.

It's possible that the bodies were never actually preserved, so it may be that we'll never know what they actually looked like.

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