Monday, August 2, 2010

Footprints prove reptiles were first to conquer dry land

The tracks were left by reptiles living 500 kilometres
from the nearest seashore
Reptile footprints which are 318 million years old have given scientists a new insight into the evolution of life on land.

The footprints were discovered in rock slabs broken away from sea cliffs at the Bay of Fundy in New Brinswick, Canada prove that reptiles were the first vertrebates (animals with a backbone) to leave the swampy coasts and make their homes on dry land.

The footprints were discovered by Howard Falcon-Lang of University of London during a trek along the coast in 2008.

"It's a very significant event in the history of life," Falcon-Lang said in an interview.

"About 400 million years ago, animals with backbones started to come on land, but these were frog-like creatures. And amphibians such as frogs have to return to the water in order to breed. They lay soft eggs that very easily dry out."

But Falcon-Lang said when the reptiles came along, they laid eggs with hard shells that they could lay on land, and could therefore start moving away from the shore.

The scientist said that he had actually been looking for something when he tripped over, scrapped his knee and came face-to-face with the small footprints (about 4 cm long) which were likely made by a reptile approximately 20 cm long and resembling a gecko.

"It really is that extraordinary," Falcon-Lang said. "You're capturing an event that probably just took a few minutes."


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