Scientists find primate fossils millions of years old

Scientists at the University of Kansas, in the United States, have identified two sister species of near-primates, called ‘Primatomorphs’, dating back to around 52 million years ago. The study was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONEon Wednesday the 25th, and reveals that these species are the oldest living north of the Arctic Circle.

According to study author Kristen Miller, of the Biodiversity Institute and Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas, both species, called Ignacius McKennai and I. dawsonaethey are descendants of a common ancestor who headed north with an “adventurous spirit”, to “boldly go where no primate has gone before”.

Artist’s illustration of near-primate Ignacius Dawsonae | Photo: Kristen Miller/University of Kansas

That’s because the samples were found on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada, in layers of sediment associated with the Eocene, a period of warmer temperatures, which could indicate what ecosystems will be like in the coming years due to “temperature change ». climate”. “No primate relatives have ever been found at such extreme latitudes,” adds Kristen.

“They are more commonly found around the equator in tropical regions,” the study author continued. “I was able to do a phylogenetic analysis, which helped me understand how the Ellesmere Island fossils related to species found in mid-latitude North America – places like New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Even in Texas, we have some fossils that also belong to this family.”

Characteristics of primates identified by scientists

“To get an idea of ​​what Ignacius was like, imagine a cross between a lemur and a squirrel about half the size of a domestic cat,” commented Professor Chris Beard, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. “Unlike living primates, Ignacius had eyes on the sides of its head (instead of facing forward like ours) and had claws on its fingers and toes instead of claws.”

The researchers also found that the two species were slightly larger than their closest relatives, a group of primates known as Plesiadapiformes, found to the south. With this, experts believe that the adaptations of Arctic species, in an era of global warming, show how some animals could evolve today.

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