540m-year-old bug tracks are oldest footprints ever discovered

Mindy Sparks
June 8, 2018

Researchers believe they may have been a type of arthropod - the family of animals with jointed limbs that includes insects and crustaceans, or something akin to a legged worm.

The identity of the creature that made the 546-million-year-old tracks is still unknown, but they come from the period when the earliest animals are thought to have evolved.

Previously, scientists had discovered footprints as old as 530-540m years, but none predating the Cambrian period, which also began at this time and marked an explosion in the diversity and complexity of life on Earth.

Scientists have discovered the earliest footprint of an animal on Earth, dating back 541 million years. "Unless the animal died and was preserved next to its footprints", said Xiao, "it is hard to say who made the footprints".

"The rock that contains the fossil has been very well dated between 551 and 541 million years old", study author Zhe Chen, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told AFP in an email. The trackways are somewhat irregular, consisting of two rows of imprints that are arranged in series or repeated groups. 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.

Professor Shuhai Xiao, a geobiologist at Virginia Tech University, told The Guardian: "Animals use their appendages to move around, to build their homes, to fight, to feed, and sometimes to help mate".


"The footprints are organised in two parallel rows, as expected if they were made by animals with paired appendages", Xiao told The Independent.

The ancient trackways and burrows are pictured.

The researchers speculate that the same creature left both the tracks and the burrows, suggesting an animal that scurried and tunneled its way across the ground.

An worldwide research team discovered the fossil tracks in China dating back to the Ediacaran Period, just before the Cambrian Explosion when life on Earth increased rapidly.

Near the ancient footprints, the team found fossilized burrows, which suggests that the animal might have been periodically tunneling into sediments and microbial mats, either in search of food or perhaps to mine for oxygen.

While bilaterian animals - including arthropods and annelids - were suspected to have first stretched their innovative legs prior to the Cambrian explosion, in what's called the Ediacaran Period, before now there was no evidence for it in the fossil record.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

Discuss This Article

FOLLOW OUR NEWSPAPER