Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Distant Relative of Primates and Man?

NY Times: Scientists have recently found a highly preserved skeleton of a creature supposed by some to be the key to early primate evolution. "Darwinius masillae" or "Ida" is a 47-million-year old animal that is "about the size of a small cat," and "has four legs and a long tail." The level of detail experts have been able to glean from her skeleton is astonishing; we can infer her diet, which was primarily composed of leaves and fruit in a rainforest environment. Jens Franzen of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany believes "Ida" is like a distant aunt, and can tell us much about what anthropoid ancestors looked like a long time ago.

While some are hailing the discovery as a breakthrough in early primate evolution, some are a bit more skeptical. K. Christopher Beard of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh made the following remark: ''I actually don't think it's terribly close to the common ancestral line of monkeys, apes and people. I would say it's about as far away as you can get from that line and still be a primate." Rather than a long-ago aunt, Beard says, "I would say it's more like a third cousin twice removed."

If you're interested in learning more about this creature, there will be an upcoming special on the History Channel featuring "Ida."


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