Fw: [nhnenews] Surprising Footprints in Old Sand
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SURPRISING FOOTPRINTS IN OLD SAND
By Kenneth Chang
New York Times
March 1, 2005
Today, a barefoot walk on one of the North Atlantic beaches of Nova Scotia
is a chilly experience. But 350 million years ago, Nova Scotia lay near the
Equator, and scientists have found thousands of footprints left by animals
trundling across this tropical paradise.
To the scientists' surprise, the footprints, varying in length from half an
inch to the size of a hand, were made by a wide range of feet, though all of
The finding suggests that animals adapted to a new life on land more
quickly, at least on evolutionary time scales, than was thought.
The very first four-legged creatures to flop ashore did so only about 370
million years ago, and, while capable of occasional forays on land, they
nevertheless spent most of their lives in water. Fossils of these earliest
land animals show that their fins-turned-feet had as many as eight toes.
On the other hand, the feet that tromped across Blue Beach, on the north
central coast of Nova Scotia, all had five toes and appear to be those of
amphibians and reptiles that lived largely out of the water.
"Blue Beach shows a whole lot of terrestrial locomotion going on," said Dr.
Spencer G. Lucas, a curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and
Science. "They're not just walking on stubby toes. They've got claws.
They've got long thin fingers."
Some of the feet even look as if they may have been able to climb trees, Dr.
Lucas said. He and his colleagues presented the research in November at a
meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver.
Scientists find it intriguing that such advanced feet do not show up in the
record of fossilized bones until at least 20 million years later.
"The footprints," said Dr. Adrian P. Hunt, the museum's director and another
member of the research team, "are giving an intriguing glance of a world of
animals that we don't know about from bones."
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