A team of Peruvian and American scientists has discovered the 18 million year old remains of the smallest fossil monkey ever found.
A fossilized tooth in the Peruvian Amazon jungle belongs to a new kind of small monkey that is no heavier than a hamster.
The specimen is important as it helps close a 15-million-year gap in the fossil record for New World monkeys, says a team led by Duke University and the National University of Piura in Peru.
The new fossil was found on an exposed riverbank along the Alto Madre de Dios River in southeastern Peru. There, the researchers dug up bits of sandstone and gravel, put them in sacks and pulled them off to dip them in water. They then searched sieves to filter out their fossilized teeth, jaws, and bone fragments.
The team scoured about 2,000 pounds of sediment with hundreds of fossils from rodents, bats, and other animals before discovering the lone monkey tooth.
"Primate fossils are as rare as the teeth of chickens," said first author Richard Kay, a professor of evolution anthropology at Duke, who has been conducting paleontological research in South America for nearly four decades.
As a single upper molar, the specimen was only "twice the size of a pinhead" and "could fall through a windowpane". Kay said.
Paleontologists can distinguish a lot from monkey teeth, especially molars. Based on the relative size and shape of the tooth, the researchers believe that the animal is likely to feed on high-energy fruits and insects and weigh less than half a pound – just a bit heavier than a baseball. Some of South America's larger monkeys, such as Heuler and Muriquis, can become as heavy as 50 times.
"It's by far the smallest fossil monkey ever found anywhere in the world," said Kay. Only one monkey species is alive today, the dwarf monkey tuft is smaller, "but hardly," said Kay.
In an article published online on July 23, in the Journal of Human Evolution the team announced The Beast is called Parvimico materdei or "Tiny Monkey of the Flow of the Mother of God".
The find is important since it is kept in the permanent collections of the Institute of Paleontology of the National University of Piura in Peru Scientists have come from an important missing chapter in the evolution of monkeys.
About 40 million years ago, it is believed that monkeys came from Africa to South America and quickly diversified into the over 150 species of the New World we know today, most of which live in the US Amazon rainforest , But how exactly this process takes place is a bit puzzling, due in large part to a gap in the monkey fossil record 13 to 31 million years ago with only a few fragments.
In this gap lies Parvimico. The new fossil dates back to 17 to 19 million years, which means that it is "exactly at the time and place where we have come to expect a diversification of the New World monkeys".
The team is currently in another fossil collecting expedition in the Peruvian Amazon, ending in August, focusing their efforts on remote river basins with 30-million-year-old sediments.
"If we find a primate there, that would really be reward for dirt." Kay said.
Dental fossils fill a 6 million year old gap in the evolution of primates
Richard F. Kay et al., Parvimico materdei gen. Et sp. nov.: A new early Miocene platyrhin from the Amazon Basin, Peru, Journal of Human Evolution (2019). DOI: 10.1016 / j.jhevol.2019.05.016
The world's smallest fossil monkey found in the Amazon Jungle (2019, July 26)
retrieved on July 26, 2019
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