A U-Pb zircon age constraint on the oldest-recorded air-breathing land animal

PLoS One. 2017 Jun 28;12(6):e0179262. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179262. eCollection 2017.


The oldest-known air-breathing land animal is the millipede Pneumodesmus newmani, found in the Cowie Harbour Fish Bed at Stonehaven, Scotland. Here we report the youngest, most concordant 238U-206Pb zircon age from ash below the fish bed of 413.7±4.4 Ma (±2σ), whereas the youngest age from a tuffaceous sandstone above the fish bed is statistically indistinguishable at 414.3±7.1 Ma. The Cowie Harbour Fish Bed thus appears to be lowermost Devonian (Lochkovian), contrary to the previously accepted mid-Silurian age based on palynomorphs from adjacent exposures. This has implications for the evolutionary timetable of land colonization, as the Cowie ages overlap late Lochkovian zircon ages reported elsewhere for andesite below the nearby (~50 mi) Rhynie Chert, which has more advanced terrestrial biota. The results postdate the possible late Silurian Ludford Lane locality in Shropshire, England. Pneumodesmus newmani is thus not the earliest air-breathing land animal, unless the Ludford Lane locality is younger than presently assigned.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Silicates / chemistry*
  • Zirconium / chemistry*


  • Silicates
  • zircon
  • Zirconium

Grant support

Funding was provided to Stephanie Suarez from the Geological Society of America South Central Section. This was an undergraduate research award. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.