A discovery of fossilized footprints reveals when reptiles first conquered dry land.

The 318 million-year-old reptile footprints were found in sea cliffs on the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada. They show that reptiles were the first vertebrates to conquer dry continental interiors. These pioneers paved the way for the diverse ecosystems that exist on land today.

The footprints were discovered by Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang of Royal Holloway, University of London. According to New Scientist,

Around five centimeters long, the five-toed prints were made by small gecko-like creatures. "I discovered them by accident when I tripped over [them]," Falcon-Lang says.

Hundreds of stunning footprints belonging to at least three different kinds of reptile have been preserved at the site, all in sediments that, at the time the prints were made, were more than 500 kilometers [over 300 miles] inland within the supercontinent Pangaea.

The results of this study are published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

New Scientist also reports that “amphibians were the first creatures to make it onto land, hopping up the beach somewhere between 400 and 360 million years ago.” But, it has long been suspected that reptiles were the first to colonize continental interiors since they don’t need aquatic habitats to breed, unlike their amphibian cousins. The new footprint discovery bolsters this theory.

It may have been one small step for reptile-kind, but it was one giant leap for vertebrate diversity.

Image: University of Bristol

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