A 550-million-year-old worm was one of the first animals to move and make decisions
Traces of a worm-like creature have been preserved in nearly 550 million year old fossils. Researchers said fossils provide the earliest evidence that animals make decisions and move independently, according to a study published in Nature.
The team of scientists found Yilingia spiciformis, which is in the form of a "prickly yiling beetle" in rock strata near the Chinese city of Yiling. It resembled a millipede of up to 10 inches in length, divided into 50 segments across its short body.
The footprints indicate that the animal was moving towards or away from something. And the animals' ability to move and move on purpose has changed the Earth, said study tech and geochemist Shuhai Xiao of Virginia Tech.
"Mobility allowed animals to literally and metaphorically leave an unmistakable footprint on Earth," Xiao said in a statement.
It laid the foundation
The prickly Yiling Beetle is one of the earliest Bilaterians – ie animals with bilateral symmetry like humans – with segmented bodies and movements. They laid the foundation for larger animals to move, think and influence their environment, he said.
Scientists always believed that segmented Bilaterians had evolved from 635 to 539 million years ago, but they had never found evidence that could support their claims. The Petrified Paths provide a timeline to the Cambrian Revolution, the "explosion" of life 540 million years ago, which included many of the great animal groups that exist on Earth today. "Not only do we make a huge footprint through locomotion, but through many other and more effective activities related to our ability to move."
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