Scientists say world's oldest footprints belonged to tiny animals

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.

The footprints date from a period called the Ediacara - which spans from the end of the Cryogenian Period 635 million years ago to the beginning of the Cambrian Period 541 Mya.

The research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech.

The body fossils of the animals that made these traces, however, have not yet been found.

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

While we don't know exactly when animals first left tracks on our planet, the oldest footprints ever found were left between 551 million and 541 million years ago during the Ediacaran period, a new study finds.

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".

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"Previously identified footprints are between 540 and 530 million years old", Dr Zhe Chen from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology told MailOnline.

"The trackways are somewhat irregular, consisting of two rows of imprints that are arranged in series or repeated groups", explained notes from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They are one of the most diverse animal groups in existence today.

In the end, without a complete fossil record, we can not make any presumptions regarding the needs or the habits of the animal.

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. "Late Ediacaran trackways produced by bilaterian animals with paired appendages".

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.

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.

"These trace fossils include burrows and possible trackways that are preserved in close proximity and are apparently connected", the scientists noted in an introduction to the report.

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