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Miocene “Monkey”: Pliopithecus canmatensis
December 22, 2009Posted by on
The most recent addition to our family bush is a Pliopithecine from Spain named Pliopithecus canmatensis. Pliopithecoids are gibbon-like in many ways, including their long limbs, large hands, and maybe the ability to brachiate. However, the pliopithecoids are much too ancient to be directly related to gibbons, and probably predate the split between monkeys and apes. Resemblance to extant gibbons is almost certainly an example of convergence. Pliopithecoids have two premolars, which connects them with the catarrhines, but they also have unique dental morphology which places them in their own group.
The scientists describing the fossils- David Alba and his colleagues- have outlined an evolutionary history for the pliopithecoids in which they were the first catarrhines to leave Africa for Eurasia. In the Early Miocene of Asia, these first pliopithecoids are represented by a group discovered in 1978 called the dionysopithecines. From this group evolved the true pliopithecines. By the Middle Miocene, pliopithecines had dispersed quite happily into Europe, and then by the Late Miocene, back into Asia.
P. canmatensis is your typical toothsome primate: 8 individuals are represented from 61 teeth and a few scraps of mandible and maxilla. From the maxillae, we can tell that the face was short. The madible is long and skinny, with tooth rows that are almost parallel to each other.
There is only one upper canine tooth represented in the sample, and it is probably from a female. It has wear facets that show that it occluded with Premolar 3 and the lower canine. There are a few lower canines, and they probably display sexual dimorphism in size and shape. The female canines have a blunt surface, while the males have a pointed apex. The female’s canines are gracile, while those from males are “stout,” but taller than the female’s. Premolar 3 is a typical honing premolar: It only has one, high cusp with a distinct, steep wear facet which resulted from consistent contact with the upper canine.
In the molars, the distinctive “pliopithecine triangle” is present in the upper 2nd and 3rd molars. This triangle lies on the cheek side of the tooth, in between the protocone and the hypocone, and even with the beautiful diagram which the authors provide, I have to squint my eyes and cock my head to see what could maybe pass for a triangular shape of some sort. But that’s what I have to do for all teeth, so I trust the authors that it’s there!
The sites at which these fossils were found- the Hostalets de Pierola- are becoming quite the treasure trove of primate fossils! The area in Catalonia is the home of of the most interesting Miocene hominoids, Pieorolapithecus catalaunicus. Anoiapithecus brevirostrus and a speices of Dryopithecus also hail from the area around Barcelona.
Alba, D., Moyà-Solà, S., Malgosa, A., Casanovas-Vilar, I., Robles, J., Almécija, S., Galindo, J., Rotgers, C., & Mengual, J. (2009). A new species of Gervais, 1849 (Primates: Pliopithecidae) from the Middle Miocene (MN8) of Abocador de Can Mata (els Hostalets de Pierola, Catalonia, Spain)
American Journal of Physical Anthropology DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21114