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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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Related in: MedlinePlus

Micro-CT of the skull of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.(A)— CT image of the skull in plate A, viewed from the right side. (B)— CT image of the skull in plate A, viewed from the left side. Note the presence of a postorbital bar, parts of the auditory bulla below the acoustic opening, and possible hyoid bones. Tooth homologies are mapped in greater detail in Figure 6 and sutures in S2.
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pone-0005723-g004: Micro-CT of the skull of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.(A)— CT image of the skull in plate A, viewed from the right side. (B)— CT image of the skull in plate A, viewed from the left side. Note the presence of a postorbital bar, parts of the auditory bulla below the acoustic opening, and possible hyoid bones. Tooth homologies are mapped in greater detail in Figure 6 and sutures in S2.

Mentions: Mapping of developing teeth was done using ArcGIS. First a high-resolution digital photograph of the dentition visible on the surface of plate A was mapped, tooth by tooth, using good light and a binocular microscope. The high-resolution digital X-ray was geo-referenced using landmarks visible in the photograph and X-ray. This permitted identification of some teeth that were not visible on the surface. Next in sequence a shaded CT image of the same region (Fig. 4A), a reversed shaded CT image of the same region viewed from the back side of plate A (Fig. 4B), a reversed photograph of the surface of plate B [1: fig. 4] and a reversed X-ray image of plate B were geo-referenced. Each tooth could be viewed, mapped, and checked by toggling between these superimposed images. In this way virtually all teeth and developing teeth in both plates and from all jaw quadrants were identified unambiguously.


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)

Micro-CT of the skull of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.(A)— CT image of the skull in plate A, viewed from the right side. (B)— CT image of the skull in plate A, viewed from the left side. Note the presence of a postorbital bar, parts of the auditory bulla below the acoustic opening, and possible hyoid bones. Tooth homologies are mapped in greater detail in Figure 6 and sutures in S2.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0005723-g004: Micro-CT of the skull of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.(A)— CT image of the skull in plate A, viewed from the right side. (B)— CT image of the skull in plate A, viewed from the left side. Note the presence of a postorbital bar, parts of the auditory bulla below the acoustic opening, and possible hyoid bones. Tooth homologies are mapped in greater detail in Figure 6 and sutures in S2.
Mentions: Mapping of developing teeth was done using ArcGIS. First a high-resolution digital photograph of the dentition visible on the surface of plate A was mapped, tooth by tooth, using good light and a binocular microscope. The high-resolution digital X-ray was geo-referenced using landmarks visible in the photograph and X-ray. This permitted identification of some teeth that were not visible on the surface. Next in sequence a shaded CT image of the same region (Fig. 4A), a reversed shaded CT image of the same region viewed from the back side of plate A (Fig. 4B), a reversed photograph of the surface of plate B [1: fig. 4] and a reversed X-ray image of plate B were geo-referenced. Each tooth could be viewed, mapped, and checked by toggling between these superimposed images. In this way virtually all teeth and developing teeth in both plates and from all jaw quadrants were identified unambiguously.

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