Fossil worm from 550 million years ago discovered

A team of researchers from Virginia Tech analyzed ancient fossils of a small animal species. A discovery that is considered, as defined in the press release, “the most convincing sign of ancient animal mobility.”

Yilingia spiciformis

The researchers classified Yilingia spiciformis (Yiling is the name of the Chinese city where the discovery of the fossil was made). Fossil remains were found in various layers of rock by researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The study, published in Nature, describes this animal that dates back to the period of ediacaran. We are talking about a period prior to the age of the dinosaurs. The Yilingia spiciformis was a sort of worm about 10 cm long and about 1.3 cm wide. It could drag its body from the muddy bottom of the ocean to make its way to the mainland. It rested along the road and left long traces. It had 50 body segments, a back and a stomach, and a head and a tail.

Important discovery

This discovery is especially important because, as Shuhai Xiao, professor of Geosciences at Virginia Tech, states, it shows that mobile animals evolved at least 550 million years ago.

The characteristic of mobility that is considered fundamental also for the colonization of the mainland by life, is found in the group of animals called “bilaterans,” a vast group of which we humans are also part and which basically indicates the animals symmetrical bilaterally.

“Their ability to shape the face of the planet is ultimately linked to the origin of animal motility,” says the same researcher in the press release.

The very ability of animals to move intentionally probably marks one of the first decision-making processes among the animals themselves: the paths they took suggest an effort to move to or away from something, a characteristic perhaps dictated by a central nervous system that was beginning to become as sophisticated as that of today’s animals.

“When and how it evolved, animal locomotion defines an important geological and evolutionary context of anthropogenic impact on the Earth’s surface,” Xiao reports.

The research was published in Nature.

Links/Sources:

https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2019/09/Science-Shuhai_Xiao_half_billion_animal_trail.html

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1522-7

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