Scientists have discovered what might have been some of the earliest animal traces left on the Earth's surface. The discovery has been around for half a billion years or so, and may finally reveal more about this distant part of history and the first moving organisms.
What makes the find special is that the fossil of the animal that made these marks was found along its trail. Previous research has required some guesswork to understand what kind of criterion may have left evidence of their travels.
The fossils discovered include both paths and small bugs called Yilingia spiciformis (or "acute bug Yiling", Yiling is the closest Chinese city to the site of discovery). These millipede-like creatures would be up to 1
"This finding shows that segmented and mobile animals evolved 550 million years ago," says geologist Shuhai Xiao of Virginia Technical College of Science. "Mobility made animals able to make an unmistakable imprint on Earth, literally and metaphorically."
The researchers who made the discovery believe that this finding may be even more significant – it may be the first known example of decision-making of animals, Yilingia spiciformis may be distant from or to something, perhaps due to the complex central nervous system, although more research will be needed to verify this aspect.
The fact that the glitch has a "head" and "tail" and is made up of segments suggests that he knew the direction he was going while traveling through the original ozone. Further study of the fossil showed the animal resting on the road – it may not have been all it used to travel – while leaving traces up to 608 mm or 24 inches long
The finding supports the previous hypothesis that the creatures first developed the ability to move deliberately at some point during the Ediakaran period, 635-540 million years ago.
It marks the dawn of the Bilaterians – bilaterally symmetrical animals with segmented bodies and control over their movement, thought to have emerged at that time. Most animals, including humans, are bilateral.
Of course, once you can move forward in the direction of your choice, it is a great evolutionary advantage that we humans still take advantage of today.
"[Bilaterians]] the ability to shape the face of the planet is ultimately tied to the origin of animal mobility," says Xiao.
It is no exaggeration to say that life on Earth has never been the same since mobility was developed – organisms are able to move on their own, with their own energy.
This superpower helped to lay the foundations for the explosion of life during the Cambrian period, 541-485 million years ago.
This is why scientists are so excited about what they have been able to find here: it is one of the first signs of a change in life on Earth that has since influenced almost every part of the way our society works today.
"We are the most powerful animal on Earth," Xiao says. "We make a huge impression not only of the locomotive but also in many other and more influential activities related to our ability to move."
"When and how the evolution of animal locomotion determines the important geological and evolutionary context of the anthropogenic impact on the Earth's surface. "
Studies have been published in Nature .