Oldest non-African monkey fossils discovered


From Penn State University in the USA:

Oldest monkey fossils outside of Africa found

October 9, 2020

Three fossils found in a lignite mine in southeastern Yunan Province, China, are about 6.4 million years old, indicate monkeys existed in Asia at the same time as apes, and are probably the ancestors of some of the modern monkeys in the area, according to an international team of researchers.

“This is significant because they are some of the very oldest fossils of monkeys outside of Africa,” said Nina G. Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology, Penn State. “It is close to or actually the ancestor of many of the living monkeys of East Asia. One of the interesting things from the perspective of paleontology is that this monkey occurs at the same place and same time as ancient apes in Asia.”

The researchers, who included Jablonski and long-time collaborator Xueping Ji, department of paleoanthropology, Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Kunming, China, studied the fossils unearthed from the Shuitangba lignite mine that has yielded many fossils. They report that “The mandible and proximal femur were found in close proximity and are probably of the same individual,” in a recent issue of the Journal of Human Evolution. Also uncovered slightly lower was a left calcaneus — heel bone — reported by Dionisios Youlatos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, in another paper online in the journal, that belongs to the same species of monkey, Mesopithecus pentelicus.

“The significance of the calcaneus is that it reveals the monkey was well adapted for moving nimbly and powerfully both on the ground and in the trees,” said Jablonski. “This locomotor versatility no doubt contributed to the success of the species in dispersing across woodland corridors from Europe to Asia.”

The lower jawbone and upper portion of the leg bone indicate that the individual was female, according to the researchers. They suggest that these monkeys were probably “jacks of all trades” able to navigate in the trees and on land. The teeth indicate they could eat a wide variety of plants, fruits and flowers, while apes eat mostly fruit.

“The thing that is fascinating about this monkey, that we know from molecular anthropology, is that, like other colobines (Old World monkeys), it had the ability to ferment cellulose,” said Jablonski. “It had a gut similar to that of a cow.”

These monkeys are successful because they can eat low-quality food high in cellulose and obtain sufficient energy by fermenting the food and using the subsequent fatty acids then available from the bacteria. A similar pathway is used by ruminant animals like cows, deer and goats.

“Monkeys and apes would have been eating fundamentally different things,” said Jablonski. “Apes eat fruits, flowers, things easy to digest, while monkeys eat leaves, seeds and even more mature leaves if they have to. Because of this different digestion, they don’t need to drink free water, getting all their water from vegetation.”

These monkeys do not have to live near bodies of water and can survive periods of dramatic climatic change.

“These monkeys are the same as those found in Greece during the same time period,” said Jablonski. “Suggesting they spread out from a center somewhere in central Europe and they did it fairly quickly. That is impressive when you think of how long it takes for an animal to disperse tens of thousands of kilometers through forest and woodlands.”

While there is evidence that the species began in Eastern Europe and moved out from there, the researchers say the exact patterns are unknown, but they do know the dispersal was rapid, in evolutionary terms. During the end of the Miocene when these monkeys were moving out of Eastern Europe, apes were becoming extinct or nearly so, everywhere except in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia.

“The late Miocene was a period of dramatic environmental change,” said Jablonski. “What we have at this site is a fascinating snapshot of the end of the Miocene — complete with one of the last apes and one of the new order of monkeys. This is an interesting case in primate evolution because it testifies to the value of versatility and adaptability in diverse and changing environments. It shows that once a highly adaptable form sets out, it is successful and can become the ancestral stock of many other species.”

The National Science Foundation, Penn State and Bryn Mawr funded this research.

Gibbon ape ancestor discovery in India

Map illustrating the location of Kapi ramnagarensis (black star) relative to modern (dark green) and historical (light green) populations of lesser apes (gibbons and siamangs) and the approximate distribution of stem hominoid sites in East Africa (blue triangles); green triangles mark the location of the lesser ape fossil species Bunopithecus and Yuanmoupithecus; yellow rectangles mark the location of the fossil catarrhine species Dionysopithecus sp. from Middle Miocene sites in Pakistan. Image credit: Luci Betti-Nash

This is a map illustrating the location of Kapi ramnagarensis (black star) relative to modern (dark green) and historical (light green) populations of lesser apes (gibbons and siamangs) and the approximate distribution of stem hominoid sites in East Africa (blue triangles); green triangles mark the location of the lesser ape fossil species Bunopithecus and Yuanmoupithecus; yellow rectangles mark the location of the fossil catarrhine species Dionysopithecus sp. from Middle Miocene sites in Pakistan. Image credit: Luci Betti-Nash.

From Arizona State University in the USA:

New fossil ape discovered in India

13-million-year-old gibbon ancestor fills major gaps in the primate fossil record

September 8, 2020

A 13-million-year-old fossil unearthed in northern India comes from a newly discovered ape, the earliest known ancestor of the modern-day gibbon. The discovery by Christopher C. Gilbert, Hunter College, fills a major void in the ape fossil record and provides important new evidence about when the ancestors of today’s gibbon migrated to Asia from Africa.

The findings have been published in the article “New Middle Miocene ape (primates: Hylobatidae) from Ramnagar, India fills major gaps in the hominoid fossil record” in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The fossil, a complete lower molar, belongs to a previously unknown genus and species (Kapi ramnagarensis) and represents the first new fossil ape species discovered at the famous fossil site of Ramnagar, India, in nearly a century.

Gilbert’s find was serendipitous. Gilbert and team members Chris Campisano, Biren Patel, Rajeev Patnaik, and Premjit Singh were climbing a small hill in an area where a fossil primate jaw had been found the year before. While pausing for a short rest, Gilbert spotted something shiny in a small pile of dirt on the ground, so he dug it out and quickly realized he’d found something special.

“We knew immediately it was a primate tooth, but it did not look like the tooth of any of the primates previously found in the area,” he said. “From the shape and size of the molar, our initial guess was that it might be from a gibbon ancestor, but that seemed too good to be true, given that the fossil record of lesser apes is virtually nonexistent. There are other primate species known during that time, and no gibbon fossils have previously been found anywhere near Ramnagar. So we knew we would have to do our homework to figure out exactly what this little fossil was.”

Since the fossil’s discovery in 2015, years of study, analysis, and comparison were conducted to verify that the tooth belongs to a new species, as well as to accurately determine its place in the ape family tree. The molar was photographed and CT-scanned, and comparative samples of living and extinct ape teeth were examined to highlight important similarities and differences in dental anatomy.

“What we found was quite compelling and undeniably pointed to the close affinities of the 13-million-year-old tooth with gibbons,” said Alejandra Ortiz, who is part of the research team. “Even if, for now, we only have one tooth, and thus, we need to be cautious, this is a unique discovery. It pushes back the oldest known fossil record of gibbons by at least five million years, providing a much-needed glimpse into the early stages of their evolutionary history.”

In addition to determining that the new ape represents the earliest known fossil gibbon, the age of the fossil, around 13 million years old, is contemporaneous with well-known great ape fossils, providing evidence that the migration of great apes, including orangutan ancestors, and lesser apes from Africa to Asia happened around the same time and through the same places.

“I found the biogeographic component to be really interesting,” said Chris Campisano. “Today, gibbons and orangutans can both be found in Sumatra and Borneo in Southeast Asia, and the oldest fossil apes are from Africa. Knowing that gibbon and orangutan ancestors existed in the same spot together in northern India 13 million years ago, and may have a similar migration history across Asia, is pretty cool.”

The research team plans to continue research at Ramnagar, having recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their ongoing search for ape fossils.

Article co-authors include Chris Gilbert Anthropology, Hunter College, and the Graduate Center (both of the City University of New York); Alejandra Ortiz, New York University and the Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University; Kelsey D. Pugh, American Museum of Natural History; Christopher J. Campisano, Institute of Human Origins and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University; Biren A. Patel, Keck School of Medicine and the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California; Ningthoujam Premjit Singh, Department of Geology, Panjab University; John G. Fleagle, Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University; and Rajeev Patnaik, Department of Geology, Panjab University.

This research at Ramnagar was funded by the Leakey Foundation, the PSC-CUNY faculty award program, Hunter College, the AAPA professional development program, the University of Southern California, the Institute of Human Origins (Arizona State University), and the National Science Foundation. Indian colleagues are further supported by the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences and Science and Engineering Research Board.

Prehistoric North American camels, new research

This December 2e017 video is called Camelops || North American Camel || Facts & Photos.

From the University of Bristol in England:

Extinct camelids reveal insights about North America’s ancient savannas

June 10, 2020

A new study looking at extinct camelids — ancestors of today’s camels and llamas — tells the story of North America’s ancient savannas and highlights how past climatic and environmental conditions influenced the composition of mammalian faunas.

Although savanna habitats (treed grasslands) are only found in the tropics today, around 18 million years ago, during the Miocene epoch, savanna ecosystems, similar to those of modern Africa, existed in the mid-latitudes of North America. At their peak — around 12 million years ago — they were comparable in their mammalian diversity to that of the Serengeti today.

The study, published in Frontiers in Earth Science, is the work of palaeobiologists at the University of Bristol and the University of Helsinki. It provides the first quantitative characterisation of the ecomorphology of a group of large herbivorous ungulates (i.e. hoofed mammals) known as artiodactyls, which includes camels and antelope, from ancient North American savannas and how they compare with their counterparts from the present-day African savannas, such as the Serengeti.

Lead author of the research, Nuria Melisa Morales García from the University of Bristol, said: “The North American savannas housed a vast diversity of camelids. In fact, camelids actually originated and first diversified in North America where they lived for more than 40 million years and were incredibly successful and widespread.”

The researchers measured the skulls, jaws and limb bones of dozens of extinct North American artiodactyls, including camelids, and compared them with those living today in the Serengeti savanna of East Africa. The researchers recorded data on body size and on aspects of the anatomy of the animals that are linked with their ecology.

“The Serengeti mammals are very well known to research: we know how they live, how they eat and we have all their measurements. By using what we know about them, we can make solid inferences on how the extinct artiodactyls of North America were behaving,” said Professor Christine Janis, from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences and supervising author of the study.

The analysis showed that while there was considerable overlap between the ecologies of extinct and modern species, the majority of extinct camelids were most similar to the modern common eland, an arid-adapted antelope with a diet of grass and leaves. This reveals important information about the ecosystem they inhabited and suggests the North American savannas were drier than modern African savannas (a notion supported by other research).

“We also studied how these faunas were affected by the climatic changes of the Neogene: as temperatures dropped and conditions became more arid, these faunas became more depauperate — lacking in number and diversity. Camels still dominated in these faunas, but the diversity of all ungulates took a big hit. Our study shows how ungulate faunas responded to a particular scenario of climate change which, now more than ever, is extremely relevant in understanding what is to come,” said Morales-García.

How prehistoric whales died, video

This 29 April 2020 video says axbout Chile about itself:

How the Andes Mountains Might Have Killed a Bunch of Whales

At a site known as Cerro Ballena or Whale Hill, there are more than 40 skeletons of marine mammals — a graveyard of ocean life dating back 6.5 million to 9 million years ago, in the Late Miocene Epoch. But the identity of the killer that they finally settled on might surprise you.

Miocene fossil crab discovery in New Zealand

This 8 April 2020 video says about itself:

Man finds 12-million-year-old fossil, then spends 15 hours to expose crab hidden in stone

This timelapse footage shows an amateur palaeontologist uncovering an ancient crab fossil that he says is “12-million-years-old.”

The fossil, found on a beach in Christchurch, is encased in rock and Morne (Mamlambo on YouTube) carefully picks it away revealing the crab’s claws and shell.

Morne told Newsflare: “I found a fossil crab on a beach in New Zealand and then used an air scribe to remove the rock to show the fossil crab. It took about 10 hours and I made a timelapse of it.

“It [the fossil] is dated by the age of the rock it is found in, Miocene era in this case. The rock layers have been dated by some geologists using a variety of techniques, I use that information to date it. It isn’t very specific, rather a range.

“The species is a Tumidocarcinus giganteus. Found in New Zealand.”

Fossil Miocene lizard discovery in Dominican amber

This 2017 video is called Dominican Amber Fossil Anolis Lizard Inclusion.

From the University of Bonn in Germany:

Rare lizard fossil preserved in amber

February 27, 2020

The tiny forefoot of a lizard of the genus Anolis was trapped in amber about 15 to 20 million years ago. Every detail of this rare fossil is visible under the microscope. But the seemingly very good condition is deceptive: The bone is largely decomposed and chemically transformed, very little of the original structure remains. The results, which are now presented in the journal PLOS ONE, provide important clues as to what exactly happens during fossilization.

How do fossils stay preserved for millions of years? Rapid embedding is an important prerequisite for protecting the organisms from access by scavengers, for example. Decomposition by microorganisms can for instance be prevented by extreme aridity. In addition, the original substance is gradually replaced by minerals. The pressure from the sediment on top of the fossil ensures that the fossil is solidified. “That’s the theory,” says Jonas Barthel, a doctoral student at the Institute for Geosciences at the University of Bonn. “How exactly fossilization proceeds is currently the subject of intensive scientific investigation.”

Amber is considered an excellent preservative. Small animals can be enclosed in a drop of tree resin that hardens over time. A team of geoscientists from the University of Bonn has now examined an unusual find from the Dominican Republic: The tiny forefoot of a lizard of the genus Anolis is enclosed in a piece of amber only about two cubic centimeters in size. Anolis species still exist today.

Vertebrate inclusions in amber are very rare

The Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History has entrusted the exhibit to the paleontologists of the University of Bonn for examination. “Vertebrate inclusions in amber are very rare, the majority are insect fossils,” says Barthel. The scientists used the opportunity to investigate the fossilization of the seemingly very well preserved vertebrate fragment. Since 2018 there is a joint research project of the University of Bonn with the German Research Foundation, which contributes to the understanding of fossilization using experimental and analytical approaches. The present study was also conducted within the framework of this project.

The researchers had thin sections prepared for microscopy at the Institute for Evolutionary Biology at the University of Bonn. The claws and toes are very clearly visible in the honey-brown amber mass, almost as if the tree resin had only recently dripped onto them — yet the tiny foot is about 15 to 20 million years old.

Scans in the micro-computer tomograph of the Institute for Geosciences revealed that the forefoot was broken in two places. One of the fractures is surrounded by a slight swelling. “This is an indication that the lizard had perhaps been injured by a predator,” says Barthel. The other fracture happened after the fossil was embedded — exactly at the place where a small crack runs through the amber.

Amber did not protect from environmental influences

The analysis of a thin section of bone tissue using Raman spectroscopy revealed the state of the bone tissue. The mineral hydroxyapatite in the bone had been transformed into fluoroapatite by the penetration of fluorine. Barthel: “This is surprising, because we assumed that the surrounding amber largely protects the fossil from environmental influences.” However, the small crack may have encouraged chemical transformation by allowing mineral-rich solutions to find their way in. In addition, Raman spectroscopy shows that collagen, the bone’s elastic component, had largely degraded. Despite the seemingly very good state of preservation, there was actually very little left of the original tissue structure.

“We have to expect that at least in amber from the Dominican Republic, macromolecules are no longer detectable,” says the supervisor of the study, Prof. Dr. Jes Rust from the Institute for Geosciences. It was not possible to detect more complex molecules such as proteins, but final analyses are still pending. The degradation processes in this amber deposit are therefore very advanced, and there is very little left of the original substance.

Acids in tree resin attack bone

Amber is normally considered an ideal preservative: Due to the tree resin, we have important insights into the insect world of millions of years. But in the lizard’s bone tissue, the resin might even have accelerated the degradation processes: Acids in the tree secretion have probably attacked the apatite in the bone — similar to tooth decay.


Giant extinct freshwater turtles discovered

This 13 February 2020 video says about itself:

Stupendemys geographicus – the largest freshwater turtle

Researchers discovered new Stupendemys geographicus specimens in the Urumaco Formation, Venezuela, and La Tatacoa Desert in Colombia. The new specimens revealed that the shell of male Stupendemys had horns. Researchers estimate that the CIAAP-2002-01 specimen had a body mass between 871 kg and 1145 kg. According to palaeontologist Marcelo Sánchez: “The carapace of some Stupendemys individuals reached almost three meters, making it one of the largest, if not the largest turtle that ever existed”.

From the University of Zurich in Switzerland:

Extinct giant turtle had horned shell of up to three meters

February 12, 2020

Summary: Paleobiologists have discovered exceptional specimens in Venezuela and Colombia of an extinct giant freshwater turtle called Stupendemys. The carapace of this turtle, which is the largest ever known, measured between 2.4 to almost 3 meters. Moreover, the shell of male Stupendemys had horns – a rare feature in turtles.

The tropical region of South America is one of the world’s hot spots when it comes to animal diversity. The region’s extinct fauna is unique, as documented by fossils of giant rodents and crocodylians -including crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gavials — that inhabited what is today a desert area in Venezuela. Five to ten million years ago, this was a humid swampy region teeming with life. One of its inhabitants was Stupendemys geographicus, a turtle species first described in the mid-1970s.

Giant turtle 100 times heavier than its closest relative

Researchers of the University of Zurich (UZH) and fellow researchers from Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil have now reported exceptional specimens of the extinct turtle recently found in new locations across Venezuela and Colombia. “The carapace of some Stupendemys individuals reached almost three meters, making it one of the largest, if not the largest turtle that ever existed,” says Marcelo Sánchez, director of the Paleontological Institute and Museum of UZH and head of the study. The turtle had an estimated body mass of 1,145 kg — almost one hundred times that of its closest living relative, the big-headed Amazon river turtle.

Males carried horns on their carapace

In some individuals, the complete carapace showed a peculiar and unexpected feature: horns. “The two shell types indicate that two sexes of Stupendemys existed — males with horned shells, and females with hornless shells,” concludes Sánchez. According to the paleobiologist, this is the first time that sexual dimorphism in the form of horned shells has been reported for any of the side-necked turtles, one of the two major groups of turtles worldwide.

Despite its tremendous size, the turtle had natural enemies. In many areas, the occurrence of Stupendemys coincides with Purussaurus, the largest caimans. This was most likely a predator of the giant turtle, given not only its size and dietary preferences, but also as inferred by bite marks and punctured bones in fossil carapaces of Stupendemys.

Turtle phylogeny thoroughly revised

Since the scientists also discovered jaws and other skeleton parts of Stupendemys, they were able to thoroughly revise the evolutionary relationships of this species within the turtle tree of life. “Based on studies of the turtle anatomy, we now know that some living turtles from the Amazon region are the closest living relatives,” says Sánchez. Furthermore, the new discoveries and the investigation of existing fossils from Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela indicate a much wider geographic distribution of Stupendemys than previously assumed. The animal lived across the whole of the northern part of South America.

Fossil seashells, sharks, butterflies in museum

This video is called Miocene fossil clam Pseudolarix amabilis, October 4 2019.

On 13 January 2019, again to Naturalis museum.

Once again, to its Life Science hall.

Marian was working on many, mostly very small, fossils from the Tortonian age; part of the Miocene age; over 7 million years old. The fossils were from France.

There are thousands of seashell species represented in the fossils. As it was then warmer, there was more biodiversity.

Marian sorted the fossil shells according to genus. Later, specialists would do research on the species.

There were also other fossils found at that spot. Like shark teeth, acorn barnacles, sea urchins, and coral.

Next to Marian, work was in progress on classifying 500,000 unclassified butterflies of the Naturalis collection.

This October 20189 Dutch video is about the Naturalis collection.

New Zealand extinct native mammals

This 26 December 2019 video says about itself:

The Mystery of New Zealand’s Only Native Mammal.

New Zealand was thought to be a dominated by flightless birds, with only seals and bats making up its mammal population but 16 million years ago there lived a mammal. How did it get there? Where did it come from? What type of mammal was it?

Springtail fossil discovery in Dominican Republic

This is a 2010 video about springtails taken from the BBC’s Life in the Undergrowth documentary series.

From the New Jersey Institute of Technology in the USA:

16-million-year-old fossil shows springtails hitchhiking on winged termite

November 25, 2019

Summary: A newly reported, 16-million-year-old fossil is shedding light on how a group of tiny arthropods may have traversed the globe — by hitchhiking.

When trying to better the odds for survival, a major dilemma that many animals face is dispersal — being able to pick up and leave to occupy new lands, find fresh resources and mates, and avoid intraspecies competition in times of overpopulation.

For birds, butterflies and other winged creatures, covering long distances may be as easy as the breeze they travel on. But for soil-dwellers of the crawling variety, the hurdle remains: How do they reach new, far-off habitats?

For one group of tiny arthropods called springtails (Collembola), a recent fossil discovery now suggests their answer to this question has been to piggyback on the dispersal abilities of others, literally.

In findings published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and Museum national d’Histoire naturelle have detailed the discovery of an ancient interaction preserved in 16-million-year-old amber from the Dominican Republic: 25 springtails attached to, and nearby, a large winged termite and ant from the days of the early Miocene.

The fossil exhibits a number of springtails still attached to the wings and legs of their hosts, while others are preserved as if gradually floating away from their hosts within the amber. Researchers say the discovery highlights the existence of a new type of hitchhiking behavior among wingless soil-dwelling arthropods, and could be key to explaining how symphypleonan springtails successfully achieved dispersal worldwide.

“The existence of this hitchhiking behavior is especially exciting given the fact that modern springtails are rarely described as having any interspecfic association with surrounding animals,” said Ninon Robin, the paper’s first author whose postdoctoral research at NJIT’s Department of Biological Sciences was funded by the Fulbright Program of the French-American Commission. “This finding underscores how important fossils are for telling us about unsuspected ancient ecologies as well as still ongoing behaviors that were so far simply overlooked.”

Today, springtails are among the most common arthropods found in moist habitats around the world. Most springtails possess a specialized appendage under their abdomen they use to “spring” away in flea-like fashion to avoid predation. However, this organ is not sufficient for traversing long distances, especially since most springtails are unable to survive long in dry areas.

The hitchhikers the researchers identified belong to a lineage of springtails found today on every continent, known as Symphypleona, which they say may have been “pre-adapted” to grasping on to other arthropods through prehensile antennae.

Because springtails would have encountered such winged termites and ants frequently due to their high abundance during the time of the preservation, these social insects may have been their preferred hosts for transportation.

“Symphypleonan springtails are unusual compared to other Collembola in that they have specialized antennae that are used in mating courtship,” said Phillip Barden, assistant professor of biology at NJIT and the study’s principal investigator. “This antennal anatomy may have provided an evolutionary pathway for grasping onto other arthropods. In this particular fossil, we see these specialized antennae wrapping around the wings and legs of both an ant and termite. Some winged ants and termites are known to travel significant distances, which would greatly aid in dispersal.”

Barden says that the discovery joins other reports from the Caribbean and Europe of fossil springtails attached to a beetle, a mayfly and a harvestman in amber, which together suggest that this behavior may still exist today.

Barden notes that evidence of springtail hitchhiking may not have been captured in such high numbers until now due to the rarity of such a fossilized interaction, as well as the nature of modern sampling methods for insects, which typically involves submersion in ethanol for preservation.

“Because it appears that springtails reflexively detach from their hosts when in danger, evidenced by the detached individuals in the amber, ethanol would effectively erase the link between hitchhiker and host,” said Barden. “Amber derives from fossilized sticky tree resin and is viscous enough that it would retain the interaction. … Meaning, sometimes you have to turn to 16-million-year-old amber fossils to find out what might be happening in your backyard.”