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Zhe Chen / Shuhai Xiao

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The millipede-like animal dragged itself along the sea floor half a billion years ago

A millipede-like creature from 550 million years ago is among the earliest examples of an animal showing complex behaviour.

Long before the dinosaurs walked the Earth, the four-inch long creature dragged its body along a muddy sea floor and became fossilised.

The animal died right next to its trail, giving scientists the rare opportunity to link it to the track it made.

The fossil was found in eastern China.

It’s among the earliest examples of continuous, directed movement by animals. Researchers say the specimen may hint that a form of complex behaviour had already evolved in these earliest animals half a billion years ago.

The animal appears in rocks that belong to a slice of geological time known as the Ediacaran. This period is known for the appearance of very early multicellular life forms.

“It’s the continuous trails that are most abundant in the Ediacaran rocks. A lot of times they’re not preserved with the animal that made them,” co-author Prof Shuhai Xiao, from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, US, told BBC News.

“So it’s almost impossible to say what animals made these continuous trails, unless you have the animals preserved together with the trails.”

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Zhe Chen / Shuhai Xiao

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