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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

Shoulder girdle and forelimb of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Photograph (A) and X-ray image (B) show the specimen preserved on plate A (Fig. 1). Note excrescence at the distal end of the right forearm, and a fracture of the basal phalanx of the left pollex (details are shown in Fig. 9).
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pone-0005723-g008: Shoulder girdle and forelimb of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Photograph (A) and X-ray image (B) show the specimen preserved on plate A (Fig. 1). Note excrescence at the distal end of the right forearm, and a fracture of the basal phalanx of the left pollex (details are shown in Fig. 9).

Mentions: (Figs. 8–9, S4, and measurements in Appendix S1). The right scapula represents most of the shoulder girdle (Fig. 8). Its dorsal part is heavily crushed. The crista scapulae passes proximocranially into a rather expansive processus hamatus for articulation with the clavicle. The left scapula appears dorsal to the vertebral column and its dorsal part can be viewed medially. The processus hamatus is curved in a craniodorsal direction, more so than in Notharctus osborni, while the caudal extension of the margo costalis dorsal to the collum is not as expressed. In Eulemur mongoz, Varecia variegata, Avahi laniger, and Loris sp., such a caudal extension of the margo costalis is totally missing, and the same holds for Callithrix jacchus and Cercopithecus neglectus. Dorsally, the crista scapulae reaches the margo vertebralis of the scapular blade. The facies supra spinam is evidently much smaller than the facies infra spinam. A fragment of the clavicle can be seen dorsal to the processus hamatus of the right scapula, but no details are observable.


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)

Shoulder girdle and forelimb of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Photograph (A) and X-ray image (B) show the specimen preserved on plate A (Fig. 1). Note excrescence at the distal end of the right forearm, and a fracture of the basal phalanx of the left pollex (details are shown in Fig. 9).
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0005723-g008: Shoulder girdle and forelimb of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Photograph (A) and X-ray image (B) show the specimen preserved on plate A (Fig. 1). Note excrescence at the distal end of the right forearm, and a fracture of the basal phalanx of the left pollex (details are shown in Fig. 9).
Mentions: (Figs. 8–9, S4, and measurements in Appendix S1). The right scapula represents most of the shoulder girdle (Fig. 8). Its dorsal part is heavily crushed. The crista scapulae passes proximocranially into a rather expansive processus hamatus for articulation with the clavicle. The left scapula appears dorsal to the vertebral column and its dorsal part can be viewed medially. The processus hamatus is curved in a craniodorsal direction, more so than in Notharctus osborni, while the caudal extension of the margo costalis dorsal to the collum is not as expressed. In Eulemur mongoz, Varecia variegata, Avahi laniger, and Loris sp., such a caudal extension of the margo costalis is totally missing, and the same holds for Callithrix jacchus and Cercopithecus neglectus. Dorsally, the crista scapulae reaches the margo vertebralis of the scapular blade. The facies supra spinam is evidently much smaller than the facies infra spinam. A fragment of the clavicle can be seen dorsal to the processus hamatus of the right scapula, but no details are observable.

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