World's oldest footprints found in China

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While the researchers are unable to identify the animal behind the footprints, there are three types of living animals with paired appendages: arthropods such as bumble bees, annelids such as bristle worms, and tetrapods which include humans.

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.

Researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech in the United States studied trackways and burrows discovered in the Ediacaran Shibantan Member of the Dengying Formation (551-541 million years ago) in the Yangtze Gorges area of South China. The research was published in Science Advances on June 6, 2018.

Prior to this discovery, it was suspected that animals with legs first appeared during this period, but no evidence had ever been found. But they say the tracks probably belong to a bilaterian. That's hundreds of millions of years before dinosaurs started roaming Earth, about 245 million years ago.

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.

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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. The footprints are organized in two parallel rows, as expected if animals made them with paired appendages.

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

"Arthropods and annelids, or their ancestors, are possibilities".

Still, due to the proximity of the track marks to fossilised burrows discovered nearby, the researchers hypothesise the creature may have exhibited "complex behaviour", such as periodically digging into sediments to mine oxygen and food among its riverbed habitat.

The fossil trackways-preserved between two ancient layers of rock-are very narrow, measuring about half an inch in width.

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