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    ... NHNE News List Current Members: 1129 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... SURPRISING FOOTPRINTS IN OLD SAND By Kenneth
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2005
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      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
      them five-toed.

      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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