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'Earliest animal fossil footprints discovered in China'

"Animals use their appendages to move around, to build their homes, to fight, to feed, and sometimes to help mate", he said, adding that the movement of sediments by the first legged creatures could have had a major impact on the Earth's geochemical cycles and climate.

The fossils date to the Ediacaran Period, which was between 635 to 541 million years ago.

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.

According to the team, the animal appeared to have paused time to time as the footprints were connected to burrows.

The oldest known footprints on Earth, left by an ancient creepy-crawly more than 500 million years ago, have been discovered in China.

No body fossils for these animals have been found yet, however, and the scientists believe such remnants may not have been preserved.

However, the fossil record of animal appendages confirms that their evolutionary ancestry was rooted in the Ediacaran Period, the researchers noted. The tracks were created in mud up to 551 million years ago somewhere in the mountainous Yangtze Gorges, by the Yangtze River in southern China.

Trackways and burrows excavated in situ from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation. This new find is the first direct evidence of animals with appendages during the Late Ediacaran Period.

They were discovered by researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech in the United States.

The odd-looking prehistoric trackways show two rows of imprints that resemble a series of repeated footprints, the researchers said.

The study is published June 6 in the journal Science Advances.

These animals are long gone and extinct, but they've made their mark on ancient rocks, making it possible for scientists to piece together the world back then. It was after this point that arthropods (jointed limb insects like roaches and spiders) and annelids (ringed worms) completely took over the planet.

The trackways indicate a connection to burrowing, suggesting that whatever animal this was might have had a habit of digging into sediments and microbial mats. They are often assumed to have appeared and radiated suddenly during the "Cambrian Explosion" about 541-510 million years ago, although it has always been suspected that their evolutionary ancestry was rooted in the Ediacaran Period. Known as bilaterian organisms, these animals featured a head, tail, back, and stomach.

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