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Complete primate skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: morphology and paleobiology.

Franzen JL, Gingerich PD, Habersetzer J, Hurum JH, von Koenigswald W, Smith BH - PLoS ONE (2009)

Bottom Line: Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the digestive tract.Study of all these features allows a fairly complete reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet.Any future study of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved in the Darwinius holotype.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Frankfurt, Germany.

ABSTRACT

Background: The best European locality for complete Eocene mammal skeletons is Grube Messel, near Darmstadt, Germany. Although the site was surrounded by a para-tropical rain forest in the Eocene, primates are remarkably rare there, and only eight fragmentary specimens were known until now. Messel has now yielded a full primate skeleton. The specimen has an unusual history: it was privately collected and sold in two parts, with only the lesser part previously known. The second part, which has just come to light, shows the skeleton to be the most complete primate known in the fossil record.

Methodology/principal findings: We describe the morphology and investigate the paleobiology of the skeleton. The specimen is described as Darwinius masillae n.gen. n.sp. belonging to the Cercamoniinae. Because the skeleton is lightly crushed and bones cannot be handled individually, imaging studies are of particular importance. Skull radiography shows a host of teeth developing within the juvenile face. Investigation of growth and proportion suggest that the individual was a weaned and independent-feeding female that died in her first year of life, and might have attained a body weight of 650-900 g had she lived to adulthood. She was an agile, nail-bearing, generalized arboreal quadruped living above the floor of the Messel rain forest.

Conclusions/significance: Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the digestive tract. Study of all these features allows a fairly complete reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet. Any future study of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved in the Darwinius holotype. Of particular importance to phylogenetic studies, the absence of a toilet claw and a toothcomb demonstrates that Darwinius masillae is not simply a fossil lemur, but part of a larger group of primates, Adapoidea, representative of the early haplorhine diversification.

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Darwinius masillae, new genus and species, from Messel in Germany.(A)— Plate A (PMO 214.214) showing holotype skeleton in right lateral view. (B)— Plate B (WDC-MG-210) left side of holotype (reversed for comparison with plate A). Plates show part and counterpart of the same skeleton. Plates have different museum numbers because they are in different museum collections. Note the exceptional completeness of the articulated skeleton in plate A, with left and right hands and the right foot complete, including distal phalanges, and the tail complete to the tip. Stained matrix shows the soft-tissue body outline. Abdomen contains organic remains of food in the digestive tract. All of plate A and parts 1 and 2 on plate B (enclosed in dashed lines) are genuine; remainder of plate B was fabricated during preparation.
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pone-0005723-g001: Darwinius masillae, new genus and species, from Messel in Germany.(A)— Plate A (PMO 214.214) showing holotype skeleton in right lateral view. (B)— Plate B (WDC-MG-210) left side of holotype (reversed for comparison with plate A). Plates show part and counterpart of the same skeleton. Plates have different museum numbers because they are in different museum collections. Note the exceptional completeness of the articulated skeleton in plate A, with left and right hands and the right foot complete, including distal phalanges, and the tail complete to the tip. Stained matrix shows the soft-tissue body outline. Abdomen contains organic remains of food in the digestive tract. All of plate A and parts 1 and 2 on plate B (enclosed in dashed lines) are genuine; remainder of plate B was fabricated during preparation.

Mentions: A set of extraordinary circumstances produced one of the most complete skeletons of a fossil primate ever recovered, here described as a new genus and species Darwinius masillae. The holotype is a juvenile that died at the margin of a volcanic lake in a paratropical rain forest and was preserved in Middle Eocene sediments of Messel, Germany (Grube Messel or ‘Messel pit,’ herein simply Messel). The fossil was apparently unearthed in 1983 by private collectors who split and eventually sold two parts of the skeleton on separate plates: the lesser part (herein plate B) was restored and in the process partly fabricated to make it look more complete. This was eventually purchased for a private museum in Wyoming, and then described by one of us who recognized the fabrication [1]. The more complete part (plate A; Figs. 1–2) has just come to light, and it now belongs to the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo (Norway). When made available for study, plate A was immediately recognizable as the complete complementary and unaltered counterpart of plate B.


Complete primate skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: morphology and paleobiology.

Franzen JL, Gingerich PD, Habersetzer J, Hurum JH, von Koenigswald W, Smith BH - PLoS ONE (2009)

Darwinius masillae, new genus and species, from Messel in Germany.(A)— Plate A (PMO 214.214) showing holotype skeleton in right lateral view. (B)— Plate B (WDC-MG-210) left side of holotype (reversed for comparison with plate A). Plates show part and counterpart of the same skeleton. Plates have different museum numbers because they are in different museum collections. Note the exceptional completeness of the articulated skeleton in plate A, with left and right hands and the right foot complete, including distal phalanges, and the tail complete to the tip. Stained matrix shows the soft-tissue body outline. Abdomen contains organic remains of food in the digestive tract. All of plate A and parts 1 and 2 on plate B (enclosed in dashed lines) are genuine; remainder of plate B was fabricated during preparation.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC2683573&req=5

pone-0005723-g001: Darwinius masillae, new genus and species, from Messel in Germany.(A)— Plate A (PMO 214.214) showing holotype skeleton in right lateral view. (B)— Plate B (WDC-MG-210) left side of holotype (reversed for comparison with plate A). Plates show part and counterpart of the same skeleton. Plates have different museum numbers because they are in different museum collections. Note the exceptional completeness of the articulated skeleton in plate A, with left and right hands and the right foot complete, including distal phalanges, and the tail complete to the tip. Stained matrix shows the soft-tissue body outline. Abdomen contains organic remains of food in the digestive tract. All of plate A and parts 1 and 2 on plate B (enclosed in dashed lines) are genuine; remainder of plate B was fabricated during preparation.
Mentions: A set of extraordinary circumstances produced one of the most complete skeletons of a fossil primate ever recovered, here described as a new genus and species Darwinius masillae. The holotype is a juvenile that died at the margin of a volcanic lake in a paratropical rain forest and was preserved in Middle Eocene sediments of Messel, Germany (Grube Messel or ‘Messel pit,’ herein simply Messel). The fossil was apparently unearthed in 1983 by private collectors who split and eventually sold two parts of the skeleton on separate plates: the lesser part (herein plate B) was restored and in the process partly fabricated to make it look more complete. This was eventually purchased for a private museum in Wyoming, and then described by one of us who recognized the fabrication [1]. The more complete part (plate A; Figs. 1–2) has just come to light, and it now belongs to the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo (Norway). When made available for study, plate A was immediately recognizable as the complete complementary and unaltered counterpart of plate B.

Bottom Line: Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the digestive tract.Study of all these features allows a fairly complete reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet.Any future study of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved in the Darwinius holotype.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Frankfurt, Germany.

ABSTRACT

Background: The best European locality for complete Eocene mammal skeletons is Grube Messel, near Darmstadt, Germany. Although the site was surrounded by a para-tropical rain forest in the Eocene, primates are remarkably rare there, and only eight fragmentary specimens were known until now. Messel has now yielded a full primate skeleton. The specimen has an unusual history: it was privately collected and sold in two parts, with only the lesser part previously known. The second part, which has just come to light, shows the skeleton to be the most complete primate known in the fossil record.

Methodology/principal findings: We describe the morphology and investigate the paleobiology of the skeleton. The specimen is described as Darwinius masillae n.gen. n.sp. belonging to the Cercamoniinae. Because the skeleton is lightly crushed and bones cannot be handled individually, imaging studies are of particular importance. Skull radiography shows a host of teeth developing within the juvenile face. Investigation of growth and proportion suggest that the individual was a weaned and independent-feeding female that died in her first year of life, and might have attained a body weight of 650-900 g had she lived to adulthood. She was an agile, nail-bearing, generalized arboreal quadruped living above the floor of the Messel rain forest.

Conclusions/significance: Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the digestive tract. Study of all these features allows a fairly complete reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet. Any future study of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved in the Darwinius holotype. Of particular importance to phylogenetic studies, the absence of a toilet claw and a toothcomb demonstrates that Darwinius masillae is not simply a fossil lemur, but part of a larger group of primates, Adapoidea, representative of the early haplorhine diversification.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus