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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the features that characterized the earliest animals and when they appeared on earth
  • Explain the significance of the Cambrian period for animal evolution and the changes in animal diversity that took place during that time
  • Describe some of the unresolved questions surrounding the Cambrian explosion
  • Discuss the implications of mass animal extinctions that have occurred in evolutionary history

Many questions regarding the origins and evolutionary history of the animal kingdom continue to be researched and debated, as new fossil and molecular evidence change prevailing theories. Some of these questions include the following: How long have animals existed on Earth? What were the earliest members of the animal kingdom, and what organism was their common ancestor? While animal diversity increased during the Cambrian period of the Paleozoic era, 530 million years ago, modern fossil evidence suggests that primitive animal species existed much earlier.

Pre-cambrian animal life

The time before the Cambrian period is known as the Ediacaran period    (from about 635 million years ago to 543 million years ago), the final period of the late Proterozoic Neoproterozoic Era ( [link] ). It is believed that early animal life, termed Ediacaran biota, evolved from protists at this time. Some protest species called choanoflagellates closely resemble the choanocyte cells in the simplest animals, sponges. In addition to their morphological similarity, molecular analyses have revealed similar sequence homologies in their DNA.

Table A describes eras in earth’s history. The earth’s history is divided into four eons, the Pre-Archean, Archaea, Proteozoic, Phanerozoic. The oldest eon, the Pre-Archean, spans the beginning of earth’s history to about 3.8 billion years ago. The Archean eon spans 2.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, and the Proterozoic spans 570 million to 2.5 billion years ago. The Pharenozoic eon, from 570 million years ago to present time, is sub-divided into the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. The Paleozoic era, from 240 to 570 million years ago, is further divided into seven periods: the Cambrian from 500 to 570 million years ago, the Ordovician from 435 to 500 million years ago, the Silurian from 410 to 435 million years ago, the Devonian from 360 to 410 million years ago, the Missisippian from 330 to 360 million years ago, the Pennsylvanian from 290 to 330 million years ago, and the Permian from 240 to 290 million years ago. The Mesozoic era, from 66 to 240 million years ago, is divided into three periods, the Triassic from 205 to 240 million years ago, the Jurassic from 138 to 205 million years ago, and the Cretaceous, from 66 to 138 million years ago. The Cenozoic era, from 66 million years ago to modern times, is divided into two eras, the Tertiary and the Quaternary. The tertiary period spans 66 to 1.6 million years ago. The quaternary period spans 1.6 million years ago to modern times. Illustration B shows geological periods in a spiral starting with the beginning of earth’s history  at the bottom and ending with modern times at the top. The diversity and complexity of life increases toward the top of the spiral.
(a) Earth’s history is divided into eons, eras, and periods. Note that the Ediacaran period starts in the Proterozoic eon and ends in the Cambrian period of the Phanerozoic eon. (b) Stages on the geological time scale are represented as a spiral. (credit: modification of work by USGS)

The earliest life comprising Ediacaran biota was long believed to include only tiny, sessile, soft-bodied sea creatures. However, recently there has been increasing scientific evidence suggesting that more varied and complex animal species lived during this time, and possibly even before the Ediacaran period.

Fossils believed to represent the oldest animals with hard body parts were recently discovered in South Australia. These sponge-like fossils, named Coronacollina acula , date back as far as 560 million years, and are believed to show the existence of hard body parts and spicules that extended 20–40 cm from the main body (estimated about 5 cm long). Other fossils from the Ediacaran period are shown in [link] ab .

Part a shows a fossil that resembles a wheel, with spokes radiating out from the center, imprinted on a rock. Part b shows a fossil that resembles a teardrop shaped leaf, with grooves radiating out from a central rib.
Fossils of (a) Cyclomedusa and (b) Dickinsonia date to 650 million years ago, during the Ediacaran period. (credit: modification of work by “Smith609”/Wikimedia Commons)

Another recent fossil discovery may represent the earliest animal species ever found. While the validity of this claim is still under investigation, these primitive fossils appear to be small, one-centimeter long, sponge-like creatures. These fossils from South Australia date back 650 million years, actually placing the putative animal before the great ice age extinction event that marked the transition between the Cryogenian period    and the Ediacaran period. Until this discovery, most scientists believed that there was no animal life prior to the Ediacaran period. Many scientists now believe that animals may in fact have evolved during the Cryogenian period.

Questions & Answers

why drinking excess alcohol causes thirst and dehydration
uwikuzo Reply
what is reproduction
smart Reply
it is d act of bringing young ones to life
Oyebanji
to ensure survival of a species🚴‍♀️
Michelle
what is a genotype
Collins
what is hazardous
smart
a cell is the smallest unit of a living thing. so we all have cell
smart
It is the formation of a zygote resulting from the fusion of the sperm cell with the ovum.Thus,this results in the production of new species which are genetically dissimilar from their parent cells.
Pallavi
what is size of cell
Mohd Reply
what is size of Hart
Mohd
nanometers=um sign thingie
Michelle
microns=nanometers
Michelle
monomers and polymers of nucleic acids?
Jyrl Reply
dna and rna involvement
Michelle
give me the elements of the soil
Iguma Reply
Air, water, organic matter, inorganic matter
Tshwano
soil water humus air
Veronicah
yap
Beloved
silica, iron
Patience
potassium, sulfur, calcium, carbon
Michelle
what is cell
iyaji Reply
A cell is a smallest fundamental unit of a living organisms.
Kem
the basic structural and functional unit of life
Patience
what is size of cell
Mohd
all things are made up of.....all things cannot exist without pre-exisiting cells...check out the 16th ce tury to learn more about microscope use and cells. i will give a hint: Mr. L.
Michelle
we are all made of cells
Michelle
Nutrition - sensitive intervention
Therowda Reply
what does the sori In fern mean
arhin Reply
biology is the study .exactly what is life?
Jerry
i'm sorry , the study of life
Jerry
how can U identify a person through his blood
Frankyx Reply
through genetic fingerprinting where specific DNA sequences in a person genome can be identified.
Pallavi
by help of genetics and DNA test
Meerbadini
can it also be detected using an RNA test
Frankyx
environmental biology
Ojesola Reply
what is phytoplankton
Ojesola
What is anabolism
Treasure Reply
the break down of substance
Aunty
how many teeth has an adult person
TSEGAY Reply
36
Treasure
32
Favour
32
Kamaluddeen
32 teeth
Meerbadini
32
OLAMIDE
32 (or 36 including the wisdom teeth)
Hailey
32
Sani
26?🤓
Michelle
what is homoestastis
Ayo Reply
hypothalamus negative feedback vs. postive feedback systems.
Michelle
it is the maintenance of a steady internal environment.it is controlled largely by the brain especially the hypothalamus.
Oyebanji
What is a cell
Eric Reply
A cell is the building block of all organisms
Millicent
yes it is , it also helps in functions .
Joezman
cell is structural & functional unit of oraganisms
Meerbadini
it is a building blocks of a living organism
Joezman
it is the basic unit of life in living organisms
Nabwonso
it is the basic unite of life in living organisms
Nabwonso
it is the fundamental unit of life
Adewoye
it is the structural and functional unit of life
Ojesola
Why cells are classify as living and non living things
Millicent Reply
due to such as virus which acts as a living cell inside the cell of an organisms and out side of cell in form of crystals
Meerbadini
because there are living cells which performs complex processes such as reproduction and metabolism then there are dead cells like the top most part of the epidermis or the bark
irish
because there are living cells which performs complex function such as reproduction and metabolism
David
cause otherwise you could call fire alive
Marissa

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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