The Earliest Animal Fossil Footprint Record

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A few days ago, on the 6th of June, a recent research was published in the Science Advances journal. An international team of scientists has just discovered fossil footprints in China, dating back approximately 635-541 million years, in the Ediacaran Period. At the moment, this is believed to be the first footprint ever left by an animal on Earth. The tracks seem to have been found in the mountainous Yangtze Gorges, in southern China.

What the team actually reported to have discovered were fossil footprints for animal appendages. Bilaterian animals (like annelids and arthropods) have appendages that are paired. These are some of the most diverse animals from our times, as well as from the geological past. There has always been an assumption that they have appeared and radiated unexpectedly in the Cambrian Explosion that took place around 541-510 million years ago. It has also been suspected that these animals can be traced back to the Ediacaran Period.

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 US, studied the trackways and burrows that were discovered in a fossil-rich area close to the Yangtze River. They observed the trackways, which were not regular, and after analyzing their characteristics, they reached the conclusion that these were formed by bilaterian animals with paired appendages.

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.

In the end, without a complete fossil record, we cannot make any presumptions regarding the needs or the habits of the animal. This new discovery is not providing scientists with all the needed information, so for now we cannot really determine what type of animal the footprints might have belonged to.

Karen and her husband live on a plot of land in British Columbia. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. They are also currently planning a move to a small cabin they hand built. Karen’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Thus sprung Anna’s interest in backyard gardening, chicken and goat keeping, recycling and self-sufficiency.


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