UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — The extinct creature, which looked like a cross between a millipede and an earthworm, was one of the first animals that could move independently. The fossilized remains of this unusual specimen and its traces left before death were found by paleontologists in southern China. Experts have christened the previously unknown creature Yilingia spiciformis.
The discovery was made in the formation of Denin ( Dengying Formation ), the age of the find is 551-539 million years. In other words, the individual belongs to the ediacara, while the Earth was inhabited by the first of the known and widespread multicellular organisms (Vendobionta).
The length of the worm-shaped creatures reached no more than 27 centimeters, and the width – no more than 2.6 centimeters. Their bodies were divided into many segments, each of which had two sharp processes. Outwardly, the individual resembled an ear of wheat.
Along with 35 fossils of animals of the species Y. spiciformis , experts found 13 ichnofossils . We are talking about traces of the life of fossil organisms, for example, traces of their crawling and burrowing into the ground. In this case, the researchers found traces that were left by ancient animals when they moved along sediments on the seabed.
What is important, some fossilized remains of an individual of the species Y. spiciformis were found next to its tracks. Such a finding clearly indicates that these animals could move.
According to a press release from the study, scientists have found what could be one of the first tracks made by animals on the planet’s surface about half a billion years ago.
“This is the first segmented animal, which, as it turned out, was capable of directed movement,” – says co-author Professor Xiao Schuch ( Shuhai of Xiao ) from Virginia Tech.
It is noteworthy that in these animals bilateral symmetry is observed , that is, the left and right sides of the body are identical, as in humans. Perhaps this is a sign inherent in all animals that have evolved in order to gain the ability to move.
At the same time, Xiao notes that individuals of the species Y. spiciformis are not the most ancient animals that could move.
“The first animal capable of movement is likely about 565 million years old,” the professor adds.
One of these creatures was a kimberella- like slug , which could glide along the seabed.
According to experts, the fossilized remains found will help to better understand how animals developed their ability to move.
The first creatures were not mobile and may have resembled modern sponges.
“The question arises when animals learned to move, and whether this ability appeared once or several times in creatures,” the scientist notes.
The answer to this question will help determine what kind of animal was Y. spiciformis . Perhaps he was an early arthropod – a group that included insects and millipedes, or a ringed worm. But he can also be the ancestor of both groups of living organisms.
“If he was an earlier animal, then perhaps the mobility developed once upon a common ancestor of annelids and arthropods,” adds Xiao.
Professor Rachel Wood ( Rachel Wood ) from the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the study, also noted the importance of this finding.
“Now we have evidence that the segmented animals existed and acquired the ability to move along the seabed to the Cambrian and, more importantly, we can correlate the creature that left its mark with an imprint. Such an unusual discovery gives an idea of the main step in the evolution of animals,” she concludes.
More details on the results of the study can be found in the publication Nature.
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