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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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Map of deciduous and permanent teeth of the right side in the skull of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Deciduous dI2 has not yet been shed, and dC1/dC1, dP3/dP3, and dP4/dP4 are still functional. Permanent teeth that are fully erupted include I1/I1, P2/P2, and M1/M1 (P2 is present on plate B [1). Erupting teeth include I2/I2 and M2/M2. Crowns of M3/M3 are fully formed but lack roots. Crowns of P3/P3 and P4/P4 are partially formed, with P4/P4 notably more developed than P3/P3. The crown of C1 appears to be fully formed, while that of C1 is less mineralized. Judging from the stage of crown formation, premolars erupted in the sequence P2/P2 – P4/P4 – P3/P3, as in Cantius (Gingerich and Smith, in prep.), Notharctus [23, pl. LII: 9], and Europolemur [16, pl.III: 3].
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pone-0005723-g005: Map of deciduous and permanent teeth of the right side in the skull of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Deciduous dI2 has not yet been shed, and dC1/dC1, dP3/dP3, and dP4/dP4 are still functional. Permanent teeth that are fully erupted include I1/I1, P2/P2, and M1/M1 (P2 is present on plate B [1). Erupting teeth include I2/I2 and M2/M2. Crowns of M3/M3 are fully formed but lack roots. Crowns of P3/P3 and P4/P4 are partially formed, with P4/P4 notably more developed than P3/P3. The crown of C1 appears to be fully formed, while that of C1 is less mineralized. Judging from the stage of crown formation, premolars erupted in the sequence P2/P2 – P4/P4 – P3/P3, as in Cantius (Gingerich and Smith, in prep.), Notharctus [23, pl. LII: 9], and Europolemur [16, pl.III: 3].

Mentions: Premaxilla: The suture between the two premaxillae is recognizable between the central incisors. The right premaxilla contains two permanent incisors (Figs. 4–5). The bone is almost triangular and has a long caudal suture with the maxilla, as well as a straight, upwardly-directed suture with the premaxilla of the left side. Above there is also a dorsomesial suture with the right nasal. The bone reaches distally to above upper dC1.


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)

Map of deciduous and permanent teeth of the right side in the skull of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Deciduous dI2 has not yet been shed, and dC1/dC1, dP3/dP3, and dP4/dP4 are still functional. Permanent teeth that are fully erupted include I1/I1, P2/P2, and M1/M1 (P2 is present on plate B [1). Erupting teeth include I2/I2 and M2/M2. Crowns of M3/M3 are fully formed but lack roots. Crowns of P3/P3 and P4/P4 are partially formed, with P4/P4 notably more developed than P3/P3. The crown of C1 appears to be fully formed, while that of C1 is less mineralized. Judging from the stage of crown formation, premolars erupted in the sequence P2/P2 – P4/P4 – P3/P3, as in Cantius (Gingerich and Smith, in prep.), Notharctus [23, pl. LII: 9], and Europolemur [16, pl.III: 3].
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0005723-g005: Map of deciduous and permanent teeth of the right side in the skull of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Deciduous dI2 has not yet been shed, and dC1/dC1, dP3/dP3, and dP4/dP4 are still functional. Permanent teeth that are fully erupted include I1/I1, P2/P2, and M1/M1 (P2 is present on plate B [1). Erupting teeth include I2/I2 and M2/M2. Crowns of M3/M3 are fully formed but lack roots. Crowns of P3/P3 and P4/P4 are partially formed, with P4/P4 notably more developed than P3/P3. The crown of C1 appears to be fully formed, while that of C1 is less mineralized. Judging from the stage of crown formation, premolars erupted in the sequence P2/P2 – P4/P4 – P3/P3, as in Cantius (Gingerich and Smith, in prep.), Notharctus [23, pl. LII: 9], and Europolemur [16, pl.III: 3].
Mentions: Premaxilla: The suture between the two premaxillae is recognizable between the central incisors. The right premaxilla contains two permanent incisors (Figs. 4–5). The bone is almost triangular and has a long caudal suture with the maxilla, as well as a straight, upwardly-directed suture with the premaxilla of the left side. Above there is also a dorsomesial suture with the right nasal. The bone reaches distally to above upper dC1.

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