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Who Invented Walking?

There’s an activity that we take for granted even though we do it every day. It may seem like a simple activity, but without it, our lives would be completely different. That activity is walking; specifically, walking on two legs (also known as bipedalism). It’s a distinctive feature of humans, and while humans aren’t the only ones to do so, we would not be who we are without it.

Walking is a natural movement that most human beings could grow to learn. It might seem strange to thank the one who invented but with the many odd occurrences in our world today, the notion is quite valid. Here’s the thing: the “invention” of walking is a long and complicated story.

Nevertheless, if you have the burning question in your head as to who invented walking: good news. This article has the answers to your question. While it will briefly discuss other forms of walking early on, it will largely focus on walking on two legs.

No One Invented Walking

It may be important to get this out of the way: walking wasn’t invented. Not by anyone or anything. Walking is an innate thing that has existed since animals began living on land hundreds of millions of years ago. Scientists believe that arthropods were the first creatures to walk on land. Specifically, millipedes are currently the oldest known land animals. They first appeared around 400 million years ago and have crawled far and wide ever since.

A coiled up millipede
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Even before the first vertebrates to walk on land appeared, other groups such as insects, arachnids, and many other forms of life already walked on land. It should be worth noting that since most adult insects have legs, they tend to go around by flying. Still, they have legs, so they have to count as walkers, right?

The First Vertebrates to Walk on Land Evolved From Fish

Invertebrates walked (or crawled) on land for millions of years before vertebrates emerged from the waters. The first land vertebrates are believed to have evolved from a class of fish called Sarcopterygii, which actually still exist today. If you’re a fan of Animal Crossing and are familiar with one of the game’s rarest fish, the coelacanth, well you’ve seen a member of Sarcopterygii!

Scientists believe a group called Ichthyostega was one of the first if not the first vertebrate group to walk on land. It looks like a cross between Sarcopterygii and an amphibian. While some scientists believe that they may have been amphibious, they do not consider them to be true members of Amphibia. Nevertheless, amphibians would come to dominate terrestrial Earth until reptiles emerged and took their throne.

Reptiles Were the First to Walk on Two Legs

When people today think of reptiles that walk on two legs, the first group that comes to mind is probably the dinosaurs. After all, velociraptors and T-rex are ingrained in our pop culture! However, bipedalism actually emerged long before there were even dinosaurs.

The earliest known bipedal animal was a reptile called Eudibamus. There is actually some dispute as to whether or not it was fully bipedal. Nevertheless, due to its anatomy, scientists consider the Eudibamus an important figure in the evolution of bipedalism.

Tyrannosaurus from the Cretaceous era 3D illustration
Image from Adobe Stock

As for dinosaurs, both of the main kinds (Saurischia and Ornithischia) had many bipedal members, although it is worth noting that T-rex and velociraptors were both members of Saurischia. Indeed, dinosaurs didn’t actually fully go extinct when that asteroid hit. While most dinosaur groups died out 66 million years ago, one group of saurischians survived up to the present day.

Birds Became Dominant Bipeds

That’s right: dinosaurs are still very much with us even today in the form of birds. And you may have noticed something about birds: all of them are bipedal! That is because birds specifically descend from a group of dinosaurs called Theropoda. Members of this group, known as theropods, were largely bipedal. If you’ve ever seen or imagined an ostrich running and it reminded you of dinosaurs, well this is the reason.

Before Primates, There Were Others

Today, people largely think of primates as the main mammal bipedal group (even though not all primates are pure bipedal). However, primates are far from the first mammal group to have bipedal members. For example, kangaroos (which are marsupials and not primates) are bipedal. After all, they jump around on just two legs. Many rodents, such as squirrels, can either walk on two legs when needed or can stand on two legs. However, not all of these rodents are exclusively bipedal.

But Primates Are The Ones Known For Walking

Despite the association, not all primates are fully bipedal. Most, if not all, primates are capable of walking on only two legs. In practice, this is not always the case and many bipedal primates still move around using their front limbs. Many of our cousins in the family Hominidae, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, are like this.

As for humans, Homo sapiens (that’s us in taxonomy speak) isn’t the first human to walk on two legs. It isn’t even Homo erectus or Homo habilis. Instead, scientists believe that a species called Ardipithecus ramidus has this honor. Ardipithecus lived 4 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia.

Fun Fact: The famous skeleton Lucy got its name because the team that discovered her played the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles the day she was discovered.

So Who Invented Walking?

If you’ve watched the Pixar film, Luca, you may recall this question being asked. Perhaps you were even inspired by that line to search for the answer. If you wanted to know who invented walking: it wasn’t invented. Instead, animals evolved the ability to walk after emerging from the seas long before we were alive.







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