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550 Million-Year-Old Worm among the First Animal Species Displaying Movement

A new research published on Wednesday in the journal ‘Nature’ found fossils related to an ancient creature resembling a millipede. The fossilized body of the 550 million-year-old creature was found next to the tracks it made. The research team said that this is among one of the earliest known trails made by animals on the planet’s surface.

The new discovery sheds light on the earliest signs of movement among animals. The ancient creature has been named as Yilingia spiciformis which literally translates to spiky Yiling bug. Yiling is the name of the city near the Dengying Formation in the Yangtze Gorges area from where the fossilized remains were unearthed. The team of researchers discovered about 35 fossils belonging to the same species in multiple layers of rocks found at the site. The length of the creature has been estimated to be 27 centimeters (10.6 inches), with a 26 millimeters (1 inch) breadth. The research team also found 13 trace fossils with the trails of the creature during excavation done between 2013 and 2018. Some of these trails made in the muddy ocean floor were found to be up to 23 inches in length.

Shuhai Xiao, the lead author of the study, said in a press release that “Mobility made it possible for animals to make an unmistakable footprint on Earth, both literally and metaphorically. Those are the kind of features you find in a group of animals called bilaterans. This group includes us humans and most animals. Animals and particularly humans are movers and shakers on Earth. Their ability to shape the face of the planet is ultimately tied to the origin of animal [mobility].” Xiao is a professor of geosciences with the Virginia Tech College of Science.

The study authors found the rocks which held the fossils to have belonged from the Ediacaran Period. The creatures, said the researchers, had a head, a segmented body with a back and an abdomen, and a tail. This is the first time ever that the fossils of a creature have been found to prove the preconceived idea that bilaterans first originated during the Ediacaran Period, between 635 and 539 million years ago.

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