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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

Pelvis and hind limb of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Photograph (A) and X-ray image (B) show the specimen preserved on plate A (Fig. 1). Note the large opposable hallux. Hind limb proportions are compared to those of other primates in see also Figure S5, and an explanatory drawing is provided in Figure 11.
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pone-0005723-g010: Pelvis and hind limb of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Photograph (A) and X-ray image (B) show the specimen preserved on plate A (Fig. 1). Note the large opposable hallux. Hind limb proportions are compared to those of other primates in see also Figure S5, and an explanatory drawing is provided in Figure 11.

Mentions: (Figs. 10–11, S5, and measurements in Appendix S1). The right side of the pelvis is visible in lateral view, with the ilium, pubis and ischium still not fused (Fig. 10). The os sacrum and vertebral column cover most of the left side. The articular surfaces of the acetabulum and the caput femoris cannot be seen, but the latter is surrounded by the ilium craniodorsally and the pubis cranioventrally, and by the ischium posteriorly. Consequently, the foramen obturatum is completely hidden. The iliac blade is narrow and extends craniocaudally as in prosimian primates, although such morphology also occurs in Callithrix jacchus. It is as narrow as in Loris, and clearly narrower than in Cercopithecus neglectus. The tuber sacrale is situated dorsomedially near the middle of the ilium. The crista iliaca is short and cranially convex. Details of the pubis are restricted to the cranially directed pecten. Compared with Lemur, the tuber ischiadicum is rather weak.


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)

Pelvis and hind limb of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Photograph (A) and X-ray image (B) show the specimen preserved on plate A (Fig. 1). Note the large opposable hallux. Hind limb proportions are compared to those of other primates in see also Figure S5, and an explanatory drawing is provided in Figure 11.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0005723-g010: Pelvis and hind limb of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.Photograph (A) and X-ray image (B) show the specimen preserved on plate A (Fig. 1). Note the large opposable hallux. Hind limb proportions are compared to those of other primates in see also Figure S5, and an explanatory drawing is provided in Figure 11.
Mentions: (Figs. 10–11, S5, and measurements in Appendix S1). The right side of the pelvis is visible in lateral view, with the ilium, pubis and ischium still not fused (Fig. 10). The os sacrum and vertebral column cover most of the left side. The articular surfaces of the acetabulum and the caput femoris cannot be seen, but the latter is surrounded by the ilium craniodorsally and the pubis cranioventrally, and by the ischium posteriorly. Consequently, the foramen obturatum is completely hidden. The iliac blade is narrow and extends craniocaudally as in prosimian primates, although such morphology also occurs in Callithrix jacchus. It is as narrow as in Loris, and clearly narrower than in Cercopithecus neglectus. The tuber sacrale is situated dorsomedially near the middle of the ilium. The crista iliaca is short and cranially convex. Details of the pubis are restricted to the cranially directed pecten. Compared with Lemur, the tuber ischiadicum is rather weak.

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