Grand Canyon cliff collapse reveals footprints made by egg-laying animals 313 MILLION years ago

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Some 313 million years ago, two creatures trekked across sand dunes in what is now the Grand Canyon and now paleontologist have uncovered evidence of their journey.

A massive boulder fell from the Mankacha Formation during a collapse and imprinted in the red stone are two pairs of the oldest recorded vertebrate tracks.

Researchers say the footprints belonged to four-legged shelled-egg-laying animals and reveal such animals traveled up sand dunes eight million years earlier than previously believed.    

The newly discovered tracks record the passage of two separate creatures of the same species walking a few hours or days apart from each other. 

One pair of tracks consists of 28 imprints with claws in each impression while the other set suggests the animal may have had an injured right foot – as there were no claw marks present on that side. 

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Some 313 million years ago, two creatures trekked across sand dunes in what is now the Grand Canyon and now paleontologist have uncovered evidence of their journey. A massive boulder fell from the Mankacha Formation during a collapse and imprinted in the red stone are to pairs of the oldest record of vertebrate tracks

The ‘surprising discovery’ was made by Norwegian geology professor Allan Krill, who was hiking with his students through the canyon.

Krill noticed a boulder lying next to the trail with suspicious markings along one side.

He snapped a photo and sent it to his colleague Stephen Rowland, who is a paleontologist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

‘These are by far the oldest vertebrate tracks in Grand Canyon, which is known for its abundant fossil tracks’ Rowland said.

Researchers say the footprints belonged to four-legged shelled-egg-laying animals and reveal such animals traveled up sand dunes eight million years earlier than previously believed (artist's impression)

Researchers say the footprints belonged to four-legged shelled-egg-laying animals and reveal such animals traveled up sand dunes eight million years earlier than previously believed (artist’s impression)

The newly discovered tracks record the passage of two separate creatures of the same species walking a few hours or days apart from each other

The newly discovered tracks record the passage of two separate creatures of the same species walking a few hours or days apart from each other

‘More significantly,’ he added, ‘they are among the oldest tracks on Earth of shelled-egg-laying animals, such as reptiles, and the earliest evidence of vertebrate animals walking in sand dunes.’

The researchers’ reconstruction of this animal’s footfall sequence reveals a distinctive gait called a lateral-sequence walk, in which the legs on one side of the animal move in succession, the rear leg followed by the foreleg, alternating with the movement of the two legs on the opposite side.

Living species of tetrapods―dogs and cats, for example―routinely use a lateral-sequence gait when they walk slowly,’ says Rowland.

‘The Bright Angel Trail tracks document the use of this gait very early in the history of vertebrate animals. We previously had no information about that.’

The boulder fell from a collapse

The boulder fell from a collapse 

The team looked deeper into the tracks to learn more about these animals that trekked across the sand dunes millions of years ago.

Trackmaker 1 appeared to drift to the right as it walked and was moving slower than its counterpart.

Each row has four footprints that are about three inches apart and its feet had claws at the end that pointed forward.

The second set, from Trackmaker 2, appears to be of the same species and came after the other set, after more sand gathered on the surface.

Each row has four footprints that are about three inches apart and its feet had claws at the end that pointed forward

Pictured is a look at what is now the US is now millions of years ago

Each row has four footprints that are about three inches apart and its feet had claws at the end that pointed forward. Pictured is a look at what is now the US is now millions of years ago

‘Two of the animal’s claws on three of its feet apparently penetrated just deeply enough to leave small impressions preserved in the same bedding plane in which Trackway 1 had been preserved, perhaps a few hours or days before,’ reads the study published in PLOS.

Researchers noticed something interesting about Trackmaker 2 – it may have had an injured foot.

The prints show a missing row of claw marks on the right foot and occasionally one of the left suggesting it may have been limping to ease the pain of wound.

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